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Martin Seligman is often called the “father of positive psychology“. He was born on August 12, 1942 in Albany, New York.
Seligman used to be the director of the clinical training program of the university of Pennsylvania for 14 years. His work mostly regards the topics of learned helplessness, positive psychology, depression, resilience, optimism and pessimism.
“The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe that bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe that defeat is just a temporary setback or a challenge, that its causes are just confined to this one case.”
– Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism, 1991.
Today he is the Zellerbach family professor of psychology as well as the director of the positive psychology center at the University of Pennsylvania.
This article contains:
Martin Seligman’s Writings
He is the author of around 20 self-help books and more than 250 articles.
He has written about topics like:
- The Optimistic Child (Houghton Mifflin, 1995)
- Abnormal Psychology (Norton, 1982, 1988, 1995, with David Rosenhan)
- Authentic Happiness (Free Press, 2002)
- Flourish (Free Press, 2011)
- Learned Optimism (Knopf, 1991)
- and the lesser-know, but great read What You Can Change And What You Can’t (2007).
Seligman graduated in philosophy in 1964 at Princeton. In 1967 he earned his Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1998 he was declared the president of the American Psychological Association (APA) and one of his activities was to encourage positive psychology as a field of scientific study.
TED Talk on Positive Psychology
Below you will find Martin Seligman’s inspiring TED Talk:
Character Strengths and Virtues
Due to his engagement in the field of positive psychology he worked on a classification manual, call the ‘Character Strengths and Virtues‘ that focuses on what can go right, instead of what can go wrong. This classification manual of character strengths and virtues consists of six classes of virtues that includes 27 character strengths. This manual functions as the ‘’positive counterpart’’ to the diagnostic and statistical Manual of mental disorders (DSM).
The most famous work of Martin Seligman is his research on the theory of learned helplessness.
“Learned helplessness is a term specifying an organism learning to accept and endure unpleasant stimuli, and unwilling to avoid them, even when it is avoidable.”
The idea behind the theory of learned helplessness is that animals can be conditioned to think that they have no control over the outcome of a situation that they are in, even though they actually do have the power to help themselves. This occurs when they are repeatedly presented with an aversive stimulus that they can’t escape.
The theory can also be applied to humans beings who think that they cannot change a situation and/or miss opportunities that make them feel helpless. These people may be more likely to develop a mental illness such as clinical depression. These findings lead to a lot of other related studies that have helped psychologists understand the basis of depression. (more about that here)
Seligman used his knowledge on learned helplessness by working with the military to increase the psychological health of soldiers and decrease the rates of soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The PERMA Model
Amongst the things he did during his work with the soldiers, Seligman created the PERMA model. He familiarized the soldiers with this model which stands for the five main features that are crucial for lasting well being; Positive Emotion, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment / Achievement. The basic idea is that knowing what makes out for a happy life is the first step in achieving it.
Positive Psychology Center
Martin Seligman is also the founder of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which mission it is to promote research, training, education, and the dissemination of Positive Psychology, resilience and grit.