Tag Archives: Martin E. P. Seligman

In Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, American psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman provides a user-friendly road map for human emotion. As reported by Publishers Weekly, the author of the bestselling Learned Optimism proposes ratcheting the field of psychology to a new level. “Relieving the states that make life miserable… has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority. The time has finally arrived for a science that seeks to understand positive emotion, build strength and virtue, and provide guideposts for finding what Aristotle called the `good life,’ ” writes Seligman. Thankfully, his lengthy homage to happiness may actually live up to the ambitious promise of its subtitle. Martin E. P. Seligman doesn’t just preach the merits of happiness e.g., happy people are healthier, more productive and contentedly married than their unhappy counterparts. Trying to fix weaknesses won’t help, he says; rather, incorporating strengths such as humor, originality and generosity into everyday interactions with people is a better way to achieve happiness. Skeptics will wonder whether it’s possible to learn happiness from a book. Their point may be valid, but Seligman certainly provides the attitude adjustment and practical tools (including self-tests and exercises) for charting the course.

Other pubblications from Martin E. P. Seligman include:
– Seligman, Martin E. P. (1975). Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-0752-7 (Paperback reprint edition, W.H. Freeman, 1992, ISBN 0-7167-2328-X)
– Seligman, Martin E. P. (1991). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-671-01911-2 (Paperback reprint edition, Penguin Books, 1998; reissue edition, Free Press, 1998)
– Seligman, Martin E. P. (1993). What You Can Change and What You Can’t: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-679-41024-4 (Paperback reprint edition, Ballantine Books, 1995, ISBN 0-449-90971-9)
– Seligman, Martin E. P. (1996). The Optimistic Child: Proven Program to Safeguard Children from Depression & Build Lifelong Resilience. New York: Houghton Mifflin. (Paperback edition, Harper Paperbacks, 1996, ISBN 0-06-097709-4)
– Seligman, Martin E. P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-2297-0 (Paperback edition, Free Press, 2004, ISBN 0-7432-2298-9)
– Seligman, Martin E. P. (2004). ‘”Can Happiness be Taught?”. Daedalus, Spring 2004.
– Peterson, Christopher, & Seligman, Martin E. P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 987-0-19-516701-6

Martin E. P. Seligman is the director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Martin Seligman was the 13th most frequently cited psychologist in introductory psychology textbooks throughout the 20th century (source: Haggbloom et al.). In this Ted event, Martin Seligman talks about psychology. As it moves beyond a focus on disease, what can modern psychology help us to become?

From his presentation:” When I was president of the American Psychological Association they tried to media-train me, and an encounter I had with CNN summarizes what I’m going to be talking about today, which is the “11th reason to be optimistic.” The editor of Discover told us 10 of them, I’m going to give you the 11th.

So they came to me, CNN, and they said, “Professor Seligman, would you tell us about the state of psychology today? We’d like to interview you about that.” And I said, “Great.” And she said, “But this is CNN, so you only get a sound bite.” So I said, “Well, how many words do I get?” And she said, “Well, one.”


And cameras rolled, and she said, “Professor Seligman, what is the state of psychology today?” “Good.”


“Cut. Cut. That won’t do. We’d really better give you a longer sound bite.” “Well, how many words do I get this time?” “I think, well, you get two. Doctor Seligman, what is the state of psychology today?” “Not good.”


“Look, Doctor Seligman, we can see you’re really not comfortable in this medium. We’d better give you a real sound bite. This time you can have three words. Professor Seligman, what is the state of psychology today?” “Not good enough.”

And that’s what Martin Seligman talks about here.

From January 2000 American Psychologist, Vol 55. No. 1. 5 14 DOI: 10.1037//0003-066X.55.1.5 Please see full article on

A science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions promises to improve quality of life and prevent the pathologies that arise when life is barren and meaningless. The exclusive focus on pathology that has dominated so much of our discipline results in a model of the human being lacking the positive features that make life worth living. Hope, wisdom, creativity, future mindedness, courage, spirituality, responsi- bility, and perseverance are ignored or explained as transformations of more authentic negative impulses. The 15 articles in this millennial issue of the American Psychologist discuss such issues as what enables happiness, the effects of autonomy and self-regulation, how optimism and hope affect health, what constitutes wisdom, and how talent and creativity come to fruition. The authors outline a framework .For a science of positive psychology, point to gaps in our knowledge, and predict that the next century will see a science and profession that will come to under- stand and build the factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish.


The field of positive psychology at the subjective level is about valued subjective experiences: well-being, con- tentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present). At the individual level, it is about positive individual traits: the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom. At the group level, it is about the civic virtues and the insti- tutions that move individuals toward better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic.

Enjoyment Versus Pleasure
In a similar vein, it is useful to distinguish positive expe- riences that are pleasurable from those that are enjoyable. Pleasure is the good feeling that comes from satisfying homeostatic needs such as hunger, sex, and bodily comfort. Enjoyment, on the other hand, refers to the good feelings people experience when they break through the limits of homeostasis–when they do something that stretches them beyond what they were–in an athletic event, an artistic performance, a good deed, a stimulating conversation. En- joyment, rather than pleasure, is what leads to personal growth and long-term happiness, but why is that when given a chance, most people opt for pleasure over enjoy- ment? Why do people choose to watch television over reading a challenging book, even when they know that their usual hedonic state during television is mild dysphoria, whereas the book can produce flow?

Collective Well-Being

This question leads directly to the issue of the balance between individual and collective well-being. Some hedo- nic rewards tend to be zero-sum when viewed from a systemic perspective. If running a speedboat for an hour provides the same amount of well-being to Person A as reading from a book of poems provides to Person B, but the speedboat consumes 10 gallons of gasoline and irritates 200 bathers, should the two experiences be weighed equally? Will a social science of positive community and positive institutions arise?


It has been a common but unspoken assumption in the social sciences that negative traits are authentic and posi- tive traits are derivative, compensatory, or even inauthen- tic, but there are two other possibilities: that negative traits are derivative from positive traits and that the positive and negative systems are separate systems. However, if the two systems are separate, how do they interact? Is it necessary to be resilient, to overcome hardship and suffering to experience positive emotion and to develop positive traits? Does too much positive experience create a fragile and brittle personality?

As positive psychology finds its way into prevention and therapy, techniques that build positive traits will become commonplace. Psychologists have good reason to believe that techniques that build positive traits and positive sub- jective experiences work, both in therapy and perhaps more importantly in prevention. Building optimism, for example, prevents depression (Seligman, Schulman, DeRubeis, & Hollon, 1999). The question is, how? By what mechanisms does courage or interpersonal skill or hope or future mind- edness buffer against depression or schizophrenia or sub- stance abuse?

Descriptive or Prescriptive
Is a science of positive psychology descriptive or prescrip- tive? The study of the relations among enabling conditions, individual strengths, institutions, and outcomes such as well-being or income might merely result in an empirical matrix. Such a matrix would describe, for example, what talents under what enabling conditions lead to what kinds of outcomes. This matrix would inform individuals’ choices along the course of their lives, but would take no stand on the desirability of different life courses. Alterna- tively, positive psychology might become a prescriptive discipline like clinical psychology, in which the paths out of depression, for example, are not only described, but also held to be desirable.


[…] We predict that positive psychology in this new cen- tury will allow psychologists to understand and build those factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish. Such a science will not need to start afresh. It requires for the most part just a redirecting of scientific energy. In the 50 years since psychology and psychiatry became healing disciplines, they have developed a highly transferable science of mental illness. They developed a usable taxonomy, as well as reliable and valid ways of measuring such fuzzy concepts as schizophrenia, anger, and depression. They developed sophisticated methods– both experimental and longitudinal–for understanding the causal pathways that lead to such undesirable outcomes. Most important, they developed pharmacological and psy- chological interventions that have allowed many untreat- able mental disorders to become highly treatable and, in a couple of cases, even curable. These same methods and in many cases the same laboratories and the next generation of scientists, with a slight shift of emphasis and funding, will be used to measure, understand, and build those char- acteristics that make life most worth living. As a side effect of studying positive human traits, science will learn how to buffer against and better prevent mental, as well as some physical, illnesses. As a main effect, psychologists will learn how to build the qualities that help individuals and communities, not just to endure and survive, but also to flourish.