Traditionally trained as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Seligman spent the first half of his professional career focused on depression and helplessness. Legend has it that a comment by his daughter (at about age 7) about his grumpiness changed the direction of his research and ushered in the field of positive psychology. After you watch Seligman, view the talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; what are the similarities and differences in their findings?

Why you should listen:

Martin Seligman founded the field of positive psychology in 2000, and has devoted his career since then to furthering the study of positive emotion, positive character traits, and positive institutions. It’s a fascinating field of study that had few empirical, scientific measures — traditional clinical psychology focusing more on the repair of unhappy states than the propagation and nurturing of happy ones.

Who is he:

In his pioneering work, Seligman directs the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, developing clinical tools and training the next generation of positive psychologists. His earlier work focused on perhaps the opposite state: learned helplessness, in which a person feels he or she is powerless to change a situation that is, in fact, changeable. Seligman is an often-cited authority in this field as well — in fact, his is the 13th most likely name to pop up in a general psych textbook. He was the leading consultant on a Consumer Reports study on long-term psychotherapy, and has developed several common pre-employment tests, including the Seligman Attributional Style Questionnaire (SASQ).


  1. Seligman says that psychology is “good”, “not good” and “not good enough” – what does he mean by these apparent contradictions?
  1. According to Seligman, what has been the contribution of psychology over the past 60 years?
  1. What are the three aims of positive psychology?
  1. What can be learned from the story of “Len”?
  1. How does positive psychology relate to what Csikszentmihalyi calls flow?
  1. According to Seligman, life satisfaction is correlated with what variables?

Making Connections:

The Amazing Effects of Gratitude with Kim Preshoff

The new era of positive psychology with Martin Seligman


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