Positive psychology: Examples, techniques and benefits

14th December 2023
A smiling psychology university student
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A smiling psychology university student
A smiling psychology university student

​Positive psychology is an area of psychology focused on the strengths and behaviours that help people build meaningful, purposeful lives. When applied in the workplace, positive psychology enables people to move beyond feeling that they’re simply surviving in their jobs to feeling that they’re flourishing meaningfully in their careers. This, in turn, helps boost individual and organisational performance. 

It’s long been said that happier workers are more productive ones, but we haven’t always understood how much being satisfied at work affects an employee’s performance. In truth, it has a substantial impact: A recent study found that happy workers are up to 20 per cent more productive than those who are less satisfied.

Positive psychology is a fairly recent discovery, having only been first recognised in the mid- to late-20th century. One particular psychologist, Martin Seligman, is recognised as contributing significantly to founding and furthering the field, particularly with one model that he developed: the PERMA model. The PERMA model, a scientific model of happiness, describes the elements required to lead a purposeful life. 

This article will explore what positive psychology is in more detail and how it can influence performance. It will explain the PERMA model and the benefits of positive psychology, as well as discuss examples of, and interventions for, positive psychology. 

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology is the study of the positive aspects of the human experience. However, positive psychology is about more than being happy and positive. It’s about all aspects of creating a satisfying life - for example, contentment, self-actualisation and joy. 

According to Seligman, positive psychology leads us to a higher place in life: “Positive psychology takes you through the countryside of pleasure and gratification, up into the high country of strength and virtue, and finally to the peaks of lasting fulfilment, meaning and purpose.”

Positive psychology is so important because being fulfilled in life and living a life of meaning is critical for all human beings. If we aren’t feeling satisfied or fulfilled, we’re more likely to feel angry, anxious and depressed, and these feelings often result in negative health outcomes. 

Regarding work in particular, feeling fulfilled is particularly important, given that people spend at least a third of their lives working. In recent years, positive psychology has been increasingly applied and practised in the workplace because of its slew of benefits, including employees being more engaged in their work and less likely to be absent. Happier employees are also less likely to leave. 

One particular benefit of positive psychology in the workplace is that it boosts individual – and hence organisational – performance. The reason is that the more satisfied employees are, the more productive they are in general and the more discretionary effort they put in. They’re also likely to be more innovative and better at solving problems.

Positive psychology examples

Positive psychology can help employees feel more happy, motivated and fulfilled at work in many ways. How can positive psychology be practised at work, though? Consider four examples of how employers can encourage positive psychology in the workplace. 

Support employees in keeping a gratitude journal   

One of the key pillars of happiness at work is gratitude. Instead of feeling lost or frustrated by work, employees should try to feel grateful for all the wonderful things about their workplaces. 

One way to achieve this is to encourage employees to keep a gratitude journal. Employers should consider purchasing their employees physical journals to write in. Then, they should ensure that they support their employees by allocating time in the workday to write in the journals (ideally at the same time every day), let them know that it’s OK to start with small examples and encourage them to be as specific as possible about what they’re grateful for. 

For example, even if an employee isn’t enjoying the tasks that they do all that much, they may still be able to journal about a good relationship they have with a colleague or a meeting where they felt productive. 

Focus on personal strengths    

When people focus on, use and nurture their strengths at work, they tend to be much happier. However, a lot of performance management at work focuses on identifying weaknesses and trying to improve them, which counters the theories of positive psychology. 

To try and encourage employees to focus on their strengths, employers should sit down with them and get them to identify what they think they’re good at. Then, they should ask them to also seek feedback from others on this. Once strengths are identified, employers can create plans to further develop employees and potentially design or change aspects of employees’ jobs, so they can focus on their strengths. 

Encourage gratitude visits

Gratitude in the workplace doesn’t just need to be personal. One way to apply positive psychology in the workplace is to encourage gratitude visits. Essentially, gratitude visits are opportunities in which employees notice what other people are doing well and praise or thank them for their effort and contribution. 

Showing small gratitude, whether it be a simple “Thank you” or an email, can have a profound effect on wellbeing. Gallup research shows that employees who receive “great” recognition are 20 times more likely to be engaged than those who don’t.

Other small examples are telling someone else that they’re doing well in their role or simply making the effort to invite someone for lunch to get to know them better. 

Provide access to wellbeing therapy

Sometimes at work, an individual may need more specific assistance. In this case, wellbeing therapy is a great example of positive psychology in the workplace and may be accessed through an employee assistance program. 

Wellbeing therapy combines therapeutic treatments with the science of wellbeing and effectively aims to retrain someone’s brain to focus on the positive, build resilience in the workplace and live a more fulfilling life.

A list of five ways people can practise positive psychology.

The PERMA model

There would’ve been no positive psychology in practice without the work of the founding father of positive psychology – Seligman – and his PERMA model. Seligman’s PERMA model has been critical in developing the positive psychology field and helping many people and employees find meaning in their lives and work. PERMA, which stands for positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments, is an evidence-based model that, when applied to the workplace, can help employees feel happier and be more productive. 

1. Positive emotion

Positive emotions are key to becoming and staying happy. When we experience positive emotions, we’re more likely to feel great, get along with those around us, and set higher goals for our future and have the energy to walk towards them. At work, we experience less stress and fatigue if these positive emotions are present. 

One positive emotion that impacts performance at work is gratitude. The workplace provides many opportunities to show gratitude to help employees perform better. For example, employees can be encouraged to share in meetings what they’re grateful for or what they appreciate about others. There can also be a more formal, organisational program to show gratitude, for example, an employee rewards program. 

2. Engagement

In the past, organisations focused on helping people to discover and develop their weaknesses. Positive psychology says they should do the opposite. In the PERMA model, engagement specifically says happiness comes from employees’ finding and using their strengths. 

By emphasising their strengths, employees are more likely to focus on the future, including how they can better themselves, instead of thinking about what they may need to “fix.” When people are focused on their strengths, they’re more likely to feel fulfilled and be innovative. 

Organisations can help employees engage by focusing on their strengths in many ways. One way is by giving regular feedback, allowing employees to participate in training and development activities, and allowing employees to share their accomplishments. 

3. Relationships

Connection in the workplace influences our happiness greatly because it allows us to invest in relationships. From an evolutionary perspective, our brains are hardwired to require human connection for not only survival but also enjoyment. When we feel connected to other people, we feel happier, and that happiness is contagious. 

Organisations can help encourage employees to form better relationships in several ways. For example, give employees time to socialise, even paying for certain events. Design activities that involve working together, and ensure that the work culture encourages people to support and praise each other and address problems together. 

4. Meaning

Just as people need to feel that they have a purpose in life to give it meaning, employees also need to feel that their work has a purpose for it to feel meaningful. For this reason, creating meaning at work is important. 

One famous example of giving people meaning at work is the experiment that organisational psychologist Adam Grant conducted. In the experiment, Grant worked with call centre staff members who were tasked with canvassing for donations for a university scholarship fund. To help the staff members feel invested in the outcome, he took them to meet a beneficiary of a scholarship. 

The meeting had extraordinary effects on productivity. After the meeting, the team members went on to raise three times more money and record longer and more engaged conversations with potential donors. The key reason that this occurred was that the work felt more meaningful. 

5. Accomplishments

The final element in the PERMA model is accomplishment. Accomplishment is the positive feeling that comes from setting realistic goals and achieving those goals (or working towards them) through specific actions. 

Feeling that they’ve accomplished something (or are on the way to doing so) helps employees thrive at work and feel invested in outcomes. 

Organisations can connect employees’ jobs with the overall organisational goals, showing employees how they’re working towards them. They can also encourage employees to set goals that align with key performance indicators (KPIs) and create plans to achieve them. 


A list of the five elements of the PERMA model.

Positive psychology benefits

As the name suggests, positive psychology can be extremely beneficial for both people who want to live a satisfying life and employees who want to get the most out of their jobs.

It’s typically associated with the following benefits: 

  • Teaches perspective and gratitude: Positive psychology teaches perspective by encouraging people to focus on their strengths and relationships, as well as gratitude. It also helps create meaning through setting goals and working towards them.
  • Encourages individuals to prioritise things other than money: Research shows that those who highly value money aren’t very happy. Positive psychology is beneficial because it helps individuals focus on things other than money.

  • Increases wellbeing: Wellbeing – defined as the state of being comfortable, happy and healthy – is what positive psychology is all about. Positive psychology helps give people the tools to understand that relationships, engagement and accomplishments are all critical parts of a good life. This can give work meaning and help people prioritise wellbeing. 

  • Improves productivity and team positivity: Positive psychology helps people feel more optimistic because they feel more connected to the meaning of their work. It also allows people to focus on their strengths, and when using these, they naturally feel more confident that they’ll succeed. When individuals are enjoying work, they can get into a state of flow in which they’re absorbed and motivated by it.

  • Puts focus on the present: Often, at work and in life, bad things happen that are out of a person’s control. When these bad things happen, it’s sometimes difficult to put them into perspective, potentially leading to feelings of anxiety and depression. Positive psychology can help people focus on the good in the present moment.

  • Encourages giving back: Positive psychology is all about connecting people with a higher sense of meaning and purpose, making them more aware of their environments and those around them. Naturally, with this comes the inclination to help others and give back. 

  • Helps put negative emotions in context: Negative things happen to everyone, but to overcome them, people need to remember the bigger picture. Having a broader focus helps people remember that negative events and emotions are only temporary.

  • Encourages authenticity: One of the truly great benefits of positive psychology is that it helps people be themselves. By focusing on the self and their motivations, people feel that they can be more authentic.

Positive psychology interventions

Traditionally, psychology as a field has been centred on diagnosing what’s wrong and then finding a solution. However, positive psychology has a very different focus. Instead of simply finding out what’s wrong, positive psychology is focused on making work and life more fulfilling. To do this, though, sometimes interventions are necessary. 

Consider five positive psychology interventions (PPIs) that may be undertaken in the workplace. 

1. Strength-building measures

Like encouraging employees to focus on their strengths, strength-building PPIs are about looking inward. However, when employees are encouraged to look inward, they’re encouraged to look to find the strength or resilience to overcome their challenges. 

An example of a strength-building PPI could be to encourage employees to solve problems themselves. 

2. Optimistic interventions

Optimistic interventions aim to help create positive outcomes at work by setting realistic expectations. They aim to help people see the current situation for what it is and find good in it. 

One example of how this may be achieved in the workplace is to ask everyone on the team to assume that everything at work is going extremely well and detail what’s working. This exercise helps people focus on what’s positive in the situation. 

3. Kindness boosters

The ability to be kind is a trait that all happy people possess. Happiness and kindness often go hand in hand. 

PPIs that help amplify kindness can work well in the workplace. For example, employees can be encouraged to buy something nice for someone else, volunteer for a cause they care about, and donate to or help someone else, not expecting anything in return. 

4. Empathy PPIs

Empathy interventions focus on positive emotions in relationships. In particular, they focus on creating healthy professional bonds. 

Traditional meditation and other mindfulness practices can help cultivate empathy between people, as well as help employees feel more connected. Other practices that enable effective communication and work to broaden people’s perspectives can also assist. 

5. Savouring PPIs

Savouring PPIs focus on particular experiences in the workplace and aim to help people maximise happiness in that moment. These types of interventions are focused on encouraging people to savour every aspect of an experience, whether it be physical, sensory, emotional or social. 

Savouring PPIs are best suited to employee offsite days in which employees are out of their environments and comfort zones and can focus more on their surroundings.

Positive psychology exercises and techniques

In addition to positive psychology interventions, it’s possible to perform a number of positive psychology exercises in the workplace. These can help employees understand the principles of positive psychology and, in turn, help them find meaning in their work and become more productive. 

Consider some positive psychology exercises and techniques that employees can do as part of designated positive psychology sessions in the workplace. Note that many of these would be best performed by a positive psychology professional. 

1. Self-care vision board

Self-care refers to undertaking activities that help people take care of their mental, emotional and physical health. Regular self-care has been shown to increase empathy and decrease anxiety and depression, as it helps improve self-awareness, self-regulation and the balancing of individual needs versus community needs. 

To create a self-care vision board, a practitioner will ask employees to list as many self-care activities as possible, and then find inspiring images and phrases associated with those. The board will act as a visual reminder of the importance of self-care. 

2. Sensory awareness exercises

Sensory awareness exercises guide employees in identifying experiences that help them derive enjoyment through their five senses. Sensory awareness is more than just awareness, though. It’s engaging with, and paying attention to, sensory information. 

To awaken the senses, a practitioner will give employees a piece of paper and ask them to label the column headings “Sound,” “Sight,” “Smell,” “Touch” and “Taste.” The practitioner will then ask them to list what they enjoy under each of those senses as they’re asked more questions to help uncover a deeper experience. 

3. Positive reminiscence

Another positive psychology exercise is positive reminiscence. Positive reminiscence is an exercise in which employees focus on experiences to give them the ability to acknowledge, appreciate and enhance the positive elements of it. Doing so can help them endure negative experiences more easily. 

To help employees perform this exercise, a practitioner will ask everyone to think about an event from the past that evokes positive emotions. The practitioner will then ask them to visualise it and remember as much as possible about it, focusing on the positive feelings and trying to relive the event. 

4. The self-compassion pause

Self-compassion is important as regards positive psychology, as people with self-compassion are more likely to treat themselves with kindness when they experience negative events. They’re also more likely to be more socially connected and have a stronger overall feeling of wellbeing. 

The self-compassion pause is an exercise best performed outside of work. For employees to complete this exercise, a practitioner will often suggest it as homework when employees feel they’re experiencing some kind of stress or discomfort. The practitioner will instruct employees to focus on their breathing, and then place their hands on their bodies to remind themselves that while this may be a difficult moment, it’ll pass. 

5. Benefit finding

A final positive psychology exercise that can be helpful is for employees to reflect on finding positives after a traumatic experience. Doing so can help them develop resilience and compassion and create a new sense of purpose. 

This exercise can certainly be a challenging one to conduct in a workplace environment, as it’s quite personal. Nonetheless, if a practitioner does conduct it, they’ll encourage employees to talk about their traumatic events for a few minutes, allowing free expression. After this, the practitioner will ask them to focus on the positive aspects of the experience and how that experience has made them better equipped to meet similar challenges in the future. 

6. Celebrate success

Celebrating success is essential for all organisations, and companies can create policies that support exactly this. These efforts are crucial in creating positivity and ensuring that employees want to come to work. 

One great initiative is for managers to make an effort to praise employees for their notable contributions. Employees should also be encouraged to seek outside validation for their work. 

7. Create opportunities to build talent

The field of positive psychology encourages organisations to leverage employees’ strengths and create avenues for honing their skills. Utilising strength assessment tests can be instrumental in guiding this. Annual performance reviews and objective setting offer valuable opportunities to further develop and capitalise on strengths to ensure that employees meet their career goals.

Organisations should endeavour to put employees in situations where they’re likely to excel so that an organisation can harness the advantage of a positive and motivated culture. 

8. Encourage positive relationships

Strong and positive relationships are the bedrock of any positive and high-performing organisation. Organisations should specifically prioritise cultivating meaningful connections among managers, individual employees and teams. Beyond this, employers should also encourage group-based activities, including regular lunches or exercise, to further promote wellbeing. 

Managers should be trained to become better coaches in their role and should always remain accessible to staff to ensure that there are no roadblocks to achieving goals. Doing so will ensure that employees feel supported. 

9. Embed a positive, goal-focused culture

Facilitating a sense of purpose and meaning in work can be achieved by actively engaging in conversations about organisational goals and values. When a business is clear about its purpose, individuals can make informed decisions and then align their own goals with the goals of the organisation. 

They can also feel confident that they’re contributing in a meaningful way. When communicating goals and a vision, ensure that all employees receive this communication and that the job descriptions of all employees are aligned with the overarching goals. 

10. Invest in people

Fostering growth and achievement in the workplace cultivates a more skilled workforce and demonstrates to an organisation’s people that they truly care. Organisations should explore ways to support employees in enhancing their skills, including by: 

  • Investing in their professional development 
  • Facilitating mentoring opportunities 
  • Offering coaching, secondments and opportunities to work on different projects. 

Doing so will create an environment of continuous learning. 

Use positive psychology examples and techniques to help find meaning

Positive psychology has much to offer people from all walks of life. It can, however, be particularly beneficial in the workplace. Taking psychology courses and implementing positive psychology at work can help employees feel happier and more engaged, meaning they’ll be more productive. Finding meaning in their work helps enable this, and positive psychology is pivotal in helping it happen. 

Learn more about JCU Online’s Graduate Diploma of Psychology (Bridging). Get in touch with our Enrolment team on 1300 535 919.

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Psychology

Find out more about JCU’s online Graduate Diploma of Psychology (Bridging).

Get in touch with our Enrolment team on 1300 535 919

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