Sunday, December 27, 2009

Martin Seligman on Flourishing

Here are my cryptic notes from Martin Seligman’s one-hour talk at the recent Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim. It was one of the best hours – we gave him a standing ovation. The inspiration may not translate in my notes, but if it does, it will be worth the read…

Martin Seligman's book The Search for Well Being, comes out in 2010!

Well-being is concerned with, but is not about, happiness. It is what people do when choosing freely (not oppressed or forced):
1. Happiness/positive emotion
2. Meaning – using what is best inside you in the service of something bigger
3. Positive relationships
4. Accomplishment - achievement/mastery/competence

Happiness (positive emotion, engagement, meaning) vs. Well-being (not a real construct but hypothetical, like freedom)

Human flourishing = building positive emotions, meaning, relationships & accomplishment

What makes people lastingly happier?
In the book, he describes 8-12 exercises that work (based on measures of depression over six months and a comparison of placebo and happiness exercises), for example:

(Placebo) write about a memory
(Happiness exercise) journaling about a blessing

(Placebo) write a story
(Happiness exercise) gratitude visit (highest trait correlated with life satisfaction)

(Placebo) taking the VIA (an assessment of strengths on Seligman's website)
(Happiness exercise) Using VIA, that is, using identified signature strengths in work setting more often

We have tricks to relieve depression and anxiety but there are many days that you will wake up depressed/anxious and that doesn’t mean that you can’t function beautifully despite depression.

“Teaching people to shoot when they’re dead tired” – how snipers are trained because it takes 24 hours to get in position and 12 hours to stay on a target. Sniper training is an analogy for teaching people to do things despite their weaknesses.

Removing depression & anxiety leads to an empty person instead of a happy person.

Teach people to overcome the negative symptoms AND teach skills for building positive emotions, meaning, relationships, achievement.

Psychiatric drugs mask symptoms (temporary symptom relief). The goal is permanent change vs. palliation.

Positive Education
What things do you want for your children? (in 2 words or less) – love & happiness
What do schools teach? – rules, conformity

Positive Psychology Experiment
1. Trained teachers to use it in their own lives first
2. Then, how to embed this into what they are already teaching

We need a highly psychologically resilient workforce (especially in education and LAUSD!)

Comprehensive soldier fitness (google this to find out more)
Army testing all soldiers, beginning October:
Part 1: emotional, social, family, spiritual fitness testing
Part 2: online courses in emotional, social, family, spiritual (family fitness course by Gottman’s) based on fitness test results

Positive Psychology training for 40,000 drill sergeants in the army (train the trainer model). Capacity to love or be loved – is the highest correlate with successful leadership in the Army.

If this can be done in the Army, then we can build flourishing & resilient school communities!

Mental health is the presence of positive emotions, meaning, relationships, achievement – not just absence of mental illness.

Formerly, studies only analyzed risk factors. Now they are taking the same data and analyzing for protective factors like optimism. In a reanalysis of longitudinal studies of cardiovascular death, where optimism was measured, it was discovered that optimism is a major health asset, controlling for risk factors.

Politics of well-being – investing our surplus in beauty lead to the Renaissance period. Let's build a monument of well-being. Wealth should be used for well-being, not more wealth. More positive emotion, engagement, meaning, better relationships, achievement!

Flourishing adults – variations of flourishing rates among Europeans. Seligman goal/benchmark: By the year 2051, 51% of the world population is flourishing. Worthwhile goal even if we are not there to see it. Increased productivity at work, better health, peace & calm.

We have long been the custodians of pathology, now we have tools to build positive emotion.

We can be agents of human flourishing.


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