Martin Seligman

I was at the Vanguard event organised by the

The principal speaker was Martin Seligman best known for the concept of learned helplessness.

His theme was positive psychology and how it can be applied in schools:

 Positive psychology can be delineated into three overlapping areas of research:

  1. Research into the Pleasant Life or the “life of enjoyment” examines how people optimally experience, forecast, and savor the positive feelings and emotions that are part of normal and healthy living (e.g. relationships, hobbies, interests, entertainment, etc.).
  2. The study of the Good Life or the “life of engagement” investigates the beneficial affects of immersion, absorption, and flow that individuals feel when optimally engaged with their primary activities. These states are experienced when there is a positive match between a person’s strength and the task they are doing, i.e. when they feel confident that they can accomplish the tasks they face.
  3. Inquiry into the Meaningful Life or “life of affiliation” questions how individuals derive a positive sense of well-being, belonging, meaning, and purpose from being part of and contributing back to something larger and more permanent than themselves (e.g. nature, social groups, organizations, movements, traditions, belief systems).

I really enjoyed lietsning to Prof Seligman and was particularly attracted by the link to the Scottish enlightenment where he referred to Francis Hutcheson who was one of the first philosophers to promote the notion of service towards others for the common good – which underpins much of what I believe in relation to the process of education and what it means to be a teacher.

My only reservation with the presentation was the apparent conflict between what Prof Seligman was saying about meaningful life through contribution and service to something larger than themselves – and his “sales pitch” (I’m sorry but that’s how it came across to me) for his “manualised” approach which people can buy and the varous modules, and services people can purchase. Why can’t we try to emulate the idea of “open source” software, i.e. share for the common good as opposed to always seeing it as a means of generating income.  I’ve nothing against making money but we need to find ways in which good ideas, sound values and exciting practices can be shared without having to wrapped up in a “package”.

This is the same reason I’m reluctant to buy into the Feuerstein approach or other “systems” which almost apprear to require the individual to give themselves over as a “believer” and to follow the “true” route – when there is much to be gained from absorbing their principles which underpin the thinking which influences their approaches and translating it into one’s day to day practice.

On the other hand – perhaps I’m turning into a cynic?

2 thoughts on “Martin Seligman

  1. Interesting stuff. I knew I had come across the name Seligman before and it took me a while to track down the source where some interesting video clips and reading about the pursuit of happiness are to be had.

    I agree that the messianic nature of such material doesn’t sit well with its requirement that we buy into a flourishing business. I suppose the problem is that, in the time required to research ideas and prepare materials, the writer is not earning.

    I can’t help feeling that pursuing happiness is a little like pursuing health in that these two qualities can only be achieved while doing something else. I have heard this view expressed recently by two seemingly contrasting characters – Ann Widdecombe and Clive James. Both agree that happiness is a by-product. Ann Widdecombe believes it to be the outcome of everything you would imagine her to endorse, while Clive James (simultaneously vague and specific) states that it is a by-product of absorption. It is simply one of life’s paradoxes that the less we think about ourselves, the happier we are likely to be.

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