Why happy people are happy? The father of Positive Psychology has earned himself this appreciation for pioneering the development of a scientific method that answers this question. This psychologist and writer (Albany, New York, 1942) directs the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania (USA) nowadays, having graduated with summa cum laude at Princeton and having been president of the American Association of Psychology for a decade, too.
His work is described in several bestsellers such as ‘The Optimistic Child’, ‘Learned Optimism’, ‘Authentic Happiness’ and ‘What You Can Change and What You Can’t’. In his experiments, based on the extensive use of questionnaires for participants, Seligman has shown new considerations about depression and satisfaction understood as the development of our personal potential or signature strenghts: our empathy, restraint and perseverance.
This psychologist takes notions of happiness by Confucius, Mencius and Aristotle, along with modern theories of motivation, concluding that happiness is achieved by working in three dimensions, i e the Rewarding Life (covering our basic needs), the Good Life (discover our potential and develop it to be fulfilled) and the Meaningful Life (dedicating our potential, virtues and strengths, to contribute to the happiness of others). This theory does dilute the conflict between individual happiness and altruism, by encouraging the pursuit of positive emotions and by neglecting the negative ones. It is to think and act in a constructive way to understand and manage our past, grow in optimism in the present and look to the future with hope.
In the field of Positive Psychology, constructive emotions lead us to enjoyable, rewarding situations, so we are offered related therapeutic strategies that keep us from frustration and negativity, aimed at highlighting our six essential virtues: knowledge and wisdom, courage, love and humanity, justice, moderation and spirituality and transcendence, relying on our own strengths. Finally, Seligman describes a meaningless life (devoid of these virtues and strengths) which results in depression, existential emptiness, lack of self-steem and of empathy.
Nowadays, thanks to Martin Seligman, we can approach a definition of a more tangible and human happiness, as we may notice in these quotes:
One of the things that psychologists used to say is that if you are depressed, anxious or angry you could not be happy. I think you can suffer or have a mental illness and be still happy, although not at the same time as when you are sad.
As for relationships, if people are taught to actively and constructively respond when someone is motivated, they reach their target, love and friendship grow and the likelihood of depression is smaller.
Life causes the same setbacks and tragedies for both optimists and pessimists, but the first group know how to face them better.
I believe it is within our capacity that by the year 2051 that 51 percent of the human population will be flourishing. That is my charge.
Reaching beyond where you are is really important.
Well-being cannot exist just in your own head. Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.
I don’t mind being wrong, and I don’t mind changing my mind.
A composer can have all the talent of Mozart and a passionate desire to succeed, but if he believes he cannot compose music, he will come to nothing. He will not try hard enough. He will give up too soon when the elusive right melody takes too long to materialize.
We deprive our children, our charges, of persistence. What I am trying to say is that we need to fail, children need to fail, we need to feel sad, anxious and anguished. If we impulsively protect ourselves and our children, as the feel-good movement suggests, we deprive them of learning persistence skills.
We’re not prisoners of the past.
Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.
By activating an expansive, tolerant, and creative mindset, positive feelings maximize the social, intellectual, and physical benefits that will accrue.
I wish you a happy week,
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