Home » The New Era of Positive Psychology by Martin Seligman (Transcript)

The New Era of Positive Psychology by Martin Seligman (Transcript)

And this is indeed what Mike Csikszentmihalyi has been talking about, about flow. And it’s distinct from pleasure in a very important way. Pleasure has raw feels: you know it’s happening. It’s thought and feeling. But what Mike told you yesterday — during flow, you can’t feel anything. You’re one with the music. Time stops. You have intense concentration. And this is indeed the characteristic of what we think of as the good life.

And we think there’s a recipe for it, and it’s knowing what your highest strengths are. And again, there’s a valid test of what your five highest strengths are. And then re-crafting your life to use them as much as you possibly can. Re-crafting your work, your love, your play, your friendship, your parenting.

Just one example. One person I worked with was a bagger at Genuardi’s. Hated the job. She’s working her way through college. Her highest strength was social intelligence, so she re-crafted bagging to make the encounter with her the social highlight of every customer’s day. Now obviously she failed. But what she did was to take her highest strengths, and re-craft work to use them as much as possible. What you get out of that is not smiley-ness. You don’t look like Debbie Reynolds. You don’t giggle a lot. What you get is more absorption. So, that’s the second path. The first path, positive emotion. The second path is eudaimonian flow.

And the third path is meaning. This is the most venerable of the happinesses, traditionally. And meaning, in this view, consists of — very parallel to eudaimonia — it consists of knowing what your highest strengths are, and using them to belong to and in the service of something larger than you are.

I mentioned that for all three kinds of lives, the pleasant life, the good life, the meaningful life, people are now hard at work on the question, are there things that lastingly change those lives?

And the answer seems to be yes. And I’ll just give you some samples of it. It’s being done in a rigorous manner. It’s being done in the same way that we test drugs to see what really works. So we do random assignment, placebo controlled, long-term studies of different interventions. And just to sample the kind of interventions that we find have an effect, when we teach people about the pleasant life, how to have more pleasure in your life, one of your assignments is to take the mindfulness skills, the savoring skills, and you’re assigned to design a beautiful day.

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Next Saturday, set a day aside, design yourself a beautiful day, and use savoring and mindfulness to enhance those pleasures. And we can show in that way that the pleasant life is enhanced.

Gratitude visit. I want you all to do this with me now, if you would. Close your eyes. I’d like you to remember someone who did something enormously important that changed your life in a good direction, and who you never properly thanked. The person has to be alive.

Now, Okay, you can open your eyes. I hope all of you have such a person. Your assignment, when you’re learning the gratitude visit, is to write a 300-word testimonial to that person, call them on the phone in Phoenix, ask if you can visit, don’t tell them why, show up at their door, you read the testimonial — everyone weeps when this happens. And what happens is when we test people one week later, a month later, three months later, they’re both happier and less depressed.

Another example is a strength date, in which we get couples to identify their highest strengths on the strengths test, and then to design an evening in which they both use their strengths, and we find this is a strengthener of relationships.

And fun versus philanthropy. But it’s so heartening to be in a group like this, in which so many of you have turned your lives to philanthropy. Well, my undergraduates and the people I work with haven’t discovered this, so we actually have people do something altruistic and do something fun, and to contrast it. And what you find is when you do something fun, it has a square wave walk set. When you do something philanthropic to help another person, it lasts and it lasts. So those are examples of positive interventions.

So, the next to last thing I want to say is we’re interested in how much life satisfaction people have. And this is really what you’re about. And that’s our target variable. And we ask the question as a function of the three different lives, how much life satisfaction do you get? So we ask — and we’ve done this in 15 replications involving thousands of people — to what extent does the pursuit of pleasure, the pursuit of positive emotion, the pleasant life, the pursuit of engagement, time stopping for you, and the pursuit of meaning contribute to life satisfaction?

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And our results surprised us, but they were backward of what we thought. It turns out the pursuit of pleasure has almost no contribution to life satisfaction. The pursuit of meaning is the strongest. The pursuit of engagement is also very strong. Where pleasure matters is if you have both engagement and you have meaning, then pleasure’s the whipped cream and the cherry. Which is to say, the full life — the sum is greater than the parts, if you’ve got all three. Conversely, if you have none of the three, the empty life, the sum is less than the parts.

And what we’re asking now is does the very same relationship, physical health, morbidity, how long you live and productivity, follow the same relationship? That is, in a corporation, is productivity a function of positive emotion, engagement and meaning? Is health a function of positive engagement, of pleasure, and of meaning in life? And there is reason to think the answer to both of those may well be yes.

So, Chris said that the last speaker had a chance to try to integrate what he heard, and so this was amazing for me. I’ve never been in a gathering like this. I’ve never seen speakers stretch beyond themselves so much, which was one of the remarkable things.

But I found that the problems of psychology seemed to be parallel to the problems of technology, entertainment and design in the following way. We all know that technology, entertainment and design have been and can be used for destructive purposes.

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