Founder of positive psychology speaks at UEL
30 January 2023
The School of Psychology invited Professor Seligman to describe how positive psychology can support wellbeing in a post-Covid world.
Professor Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania and recently named one of the most influential psychologists in the world, delivered his first public speech in three years to over 950 student and professional psychologists.
He spoke about his recent work analysing psychology throughout history, reflecting on human-agency from the 1200s to modern day.
Highlighting the bubonic plaque, Professor Seligman quoted the final message from Julian of Norwich, a writer and mystic born in 1342, who said, "all shall be well, and all shall be well."
History should not be about looking for tragedy or failure, it can focus on progression and human survival often done in the face of extreme adversity," said Professor Seligman.
"When people believe they’re agentic and making their own decisions, they’re happier. Agency and happiness are both measurable, teachable and can be identified throughout time.
"The quote ‘all shall be well’ resonates with me so because it was said during the worst period of human history. This is the strength of positive psychology, it is not just a study, but a key part of ensuring human progress."
Professor Ilona Boniwell; Professor Andrea Giraldez-Hayes; Dr Natasha Shaginian; Professor Martin Seligman and Mandy Seligman.
Happiness can be taught
Professor Seligman analysed the benefits of happiness and how it can be measured, taught and coached.
His most famous theory is the PERMA model (positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment), which positive psychologists use to encourage others to improve and protect their own wellbeing.
"Our job as positive psychologists is to defeat languishing. The world is turning towards an interest in human happiness and wellbeing. It is vital that positive psychologists don’t just witness this turn but lead it themselves," said Professor Seligman.
"When I talk to young psychologists, I am convinced I am not the only person who felt called to this practice. Young psychologists must find their greatest strength and align that to what they think people need.
"Encouraging others to identify ways that they matter is a strong tool to achieving happiness. That could be mattering at work, in your family among your friends. Mattering is a more effective explanation than meaning," he concluded.
The event also included presentations from UEL alumna, Dr Natasha Shaginian, MSc Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology and Mandy Seligman, psychologist, photographer and wife of Martin, who discussed the importance of art and wellbeing.
Dr Shaginian presented her project and exhibition titled, Positive Emotions Through Photos – Children Without Borders.
Her work invited children aged 14 – 20-years-old in Russia – most of them orphans and many with special needs – to spend a month taking pictures of things that they associated with their happiness.
Tests conducted before and after the month showed that recipients had reported increases of all five blocks of the PERMA model.
Mandy Seligman also presented Seeing Happy, a social media app which invites users across the world to take and share photos of what inspires them and makes them happy.
Photos are uploaded to a live feed which can be viewed for free. The app aims to connect people and spread positive psychology through smart phones.
Positive psychology at UEL
UEL has introduced five new modules on the positive psychology programmes which will be ready by September 2023.
For more information, see our PhD or MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology.
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