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Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology

12. 8. 2022 | 2858 visits

Martin Seligman is known as the "father of positive psychology" for good reason. His many years of work and contributions to psychology have made him one of the most respected and influential researchers in the field.

Seligman was born in New York City on August 12, 1942, and is now a leading educator, researcher, and author of several bestselling books that make the ideas of positive psychology accessible.

For fourteen years he served as director of the clinical education program at the University of Pennsylvania. His work includes topics such as learned helplessness, positive psychology, depression, resilience, optimism, and pessimism.

What is positive psychology, anyway? Positive psychology has been described in many ways, but a generally accepted definition of the field goes like this: "Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worthwhile". Taking this brief description a little further, positive psychology is a scientific approach that focuses on the study of human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, focusing on the strong aspects instead of the weak aspects. Positive psychology aims at building the good in life instead of correcting the bad, and shifting the lives of "average" people to "great and fulfilled" instead of focusing solely on transforming "troubled" people into "normal" ones. Positive psychology focuses on positive events and influences in life, including: positive experiences (such as happiness, joy, inspiration and love), positive states and qualities (such as gratitude, resilience and compassion) and positive institutions (the application of positive principles throughout organisations and institutions).

Seligman was the first researcher to bring the positive psychology movement to life. The first step was his research in the 1960s and 1970s, which laid the foundations for the well-known psychological theory of "learned helplessness." This theory, now supported by decades of research, explains how humans (and animals) can learn helplessness and the feeling that they have lost control over what happens to them. Seligman linked this phenomenon to depression, noting that many people suffering from depression also feel powerless. His work on this topic has provided inspiration, ideas, and evidence to support many treatments for depressive symptoms, as well as strategies to prevent depression.

After his initial success, Seligman knew he had more to offer the psychological community and the public-especially his ideas about being positive, uplifting, and inspiring. After becoming famous for learned helplessness, he turned his attention to other traits, characteristics, and perspectives that could be learned. He began to look at resilience and learned optimism - so he used his findings and turned them into a positive counterpart. His idea that optimism (like helplessness) can be cultivated and trained in a systematic way became the basis of his widely implemented resilience programs for children and members of the military, among others.

Seligman disagreed with psychology's overly narrow focus on negative phenomena-psychologists paid a great deal of attention to mental illness, abnormal psychology, trauma, and pain, and neglected concepts such as happiness, well-being, exceptionalism, and flourishing.

When he was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1998, he decided to seize the opportunity to change the direction of psychology. He proposed a new field of psychology focusing on what is good. The foundational paper for this new field, positive psychology, was published by Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 2000.

Since 2000, thousands of researchers around the world have responded to Seligman's call for a greater focus on positive phenomena in life, resulting in tens of thousands of studies on positive phenomena and laying the foundation for the application of positive principles in coaching, teaching, relationships, the workplace, and every other area of life.

Finally, a few quotes from Martin Seligman:

"Although you cannot control your experiences, you can control your explanations."

"Healing the negative does not bring about the positive."

"Authentic happiness comes from raising the bar for yourself, not from comparing yourself to others."


Edited by Alexander Loziak, CSPV SAV, v. v. i.

Foto: www.ipen-network.com/martin-seligman

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