It is sometimes said that positive psychology has a short history but a long past. To some extent this remark applies to psychology in general. Since the beginning of recorded history thinkers and writers have reflected upon the mind, and the nature of mental states. Indeed, since thinkers as far back in history as Aristotle reflected upon one of the main subjects of positive psychology—the nature of ‘well-being’—it could be argued that positive psychology is older than systematic reflection upon the mind. This is this sense in which psychology has a long past. However, it is only in the last century or so that serious scientific attention has been given to these topics.
This is the sense in which psychology has a short history.A second question is the sense in which positive psychology seeks to bridge the gap between the ivory tower and main street. The key to answering this question lies in appreciation of the intended practical significance of positive psychology, as distinguished from (for example) other forms of psychology that were conceived as academic disciplines whose results were available only to a chosen few, such as behaviorism or Freudian psychoanalysis. With positive psychology the emphasis was always upon ‘real-world’ applications and understanding.
A further question concerns Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow. What he meant by flow is essentially being completely absorbed in what one is doing, enjoying it and being completely immersed in it simultaneously. A number of investigations into this thinker’s notion of flow have indicated positive correlations with what he called ‘subjective well-being’. This is not to be wondered at. Well-being derives from, among other things, believing and feeling that one’s activities and vocations have meaning. Becoming absorbed in flow is a sufficient, and perhaps a necessary, condition of one’s life having well-being.
Three conditions that must be met for subjective well-being to be achieved. These are having a clear goal set for one’s activity; having feedback that determines whether, and to what extent, one is meeting one’s goal; and maintaining a balance between perceived challenges and skills with respect to one’s chose task.