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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 18/10/2007 | 6 Comments

One of the big news stories from the Washington Summit on Positive Psychology came from Martin Seligman. He wasn't giving a speech as such but was participating in a panel. However, he used the opportunity to tell the assembled gathering that he had 'got it wrong' in Authentic Happiness and that he had now revised his thinking.

Those of you who have read Authentic Happiness will know that Seligman talks about 'three lives': The pleasant life (which includes positive emotion in the past, present and future); the engaged life (which includes flow and signature strengths); and the meaningful life which is about serving a goal bigger than yourself or using your signature strengths for the common good.

For Seligman, Positive Psychology was happiness and he was not interested in semantic discussions about happiness and how it differed from life satisfaction and well-being.

Now, following countless discussions and an influential talk from the happiness researcher Ruut Veenhoven, who argues that happiness can be thought of as a mood, Seligman has decided to shelve his emphasis on happiness. Now he is focusing not on happiness or life-satisfaction but on what it takes to create good, flourishing lives: lives that promote well-being.

The new Seligman emphasis on flourishing lives is based on the idea of 'five
pillars' -

1. Positive Emotion(life satisfaction, happiness, engagement)
2. Positive Traits (strengths and virtues)
3. Positive Relationships (of value in themselves)
4. Meaning and Purpose (Positive institutions)
5. Accomplishment

I greatly welcome this change. When I talk about Positive Psychology I always played down the emphasis on happiness. I've always preferred to talk about well-being (hence the Centre's name) or focus on the idea of flourishing, or a life well-lived. When I ever explained Seligman's three levels I would deliberately add in positive relationships to positive emotion, as I thought it such a central plank in any discussion of happiness.

Before I went to Washington I planned to speak to Martin Seligman and ask him how he thought his emphasis on happiness wasn't going to create a problem for young people. Ask teachers and they'll tell you that parents are overly concerned these days if their children experience unhappiness. They say there are often parents up at the school to say that their child is unhappy that they didn't do well in the spelling test or have fallen out with a friend. Today's parents want to shield their children from bad feelings but in the process are undermining their children's learning and their resilience. As Seligman argued so eloquently in The Optimistic Child - bad feelings are an inevitable part of life as they galvanise us to do things differently. Frustration is also an inevitable part of learning. So my fear was that Martin Seligman's emphasis on happiness was likely to fuel this desire to wrap young people in cotton wool - thus undermining the chance that they will learn the skills needed for flourishing lives.

So Martin Seligman's reformulation of his work is, for me, welcome. He also said that the focus has to broaden out considerably beyond psychology. He even speculated that what we needed was a 'positive social science'. Can't see that name change taking place but the sentiment is right. IT is going to take all of us to create the conditions for flourishing. Psychologists, and psychology, only has a small part to play.
Comment By Comment
ann craig
Joined: 19/09/2007

Comment Posted: 19/10/2007 11:14
Hi I am new to this and it seems to be changing as I enter the door!!! I was at the Flamboyance and Wisdom conference and would really like a trancript of Dr Keyes lecture is that possible.thanks for a great day
yours Ann Craig
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Joined: 24/10/2007

Comment Posted: 24/10/2007 01:55
Hello Carol and all!

I've only recently discovered your site and I'm inspired!
I particularly liked the article about Seligman rethinking his position.

As humans, we're always in development, perpetually in beta,
and I applaud Seligman's ability to reflect, rethink and adapt.
Reminds me of Csikszentmihalyi's path (happiness vs flow, etc).

I'm part of a team that's recently launched a social web platform called inpowr, whose goal is to help people better understand the relationship between their actions and their well-being, with a view to personal development and greater happiness.

We're currently in beta but we already have 3000 members and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.

I invite you to visit inpowr and try out the platform. It's not all up and running but I hope you'll see the potential for helping people empower themselves.

I know you're probably overwhelmed with requests of the sort, but if you had a bit of free time, we'd greatly appreciate your thoughts/comments/insights. You might even consider sharing it with your community...


Thanks in advance for your time.
I look forward to reading many more inspiring posts on your site.

Have fun.
Kerry Fleming
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Uncle Sam
Joined: 04/09/2007

Comment Posted: 24/10/2007 17:45
I have just finished AUthentic Happiness and found it very interesting. I do like the re positioning- it sounds like the focus is going back to a philosophical approach and dealing with virtues and living the good (higher) life. I think that broadening of scope is very helpful.

I like the focus on wellness and self improvement of positive psychology. I agree with your comments and look forward to Seligman's new work.
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Joined: 25/08/2006

Comment Posted: 24/10/2007 20:47
It is refreshing to see that even someone of Seligmans standing can reflect and develop as Kerry Fleming also mentioned above. Academia can seem so far away to most people and certainly most people struggle to apply theories in practice be that in their private or business lives.

It is refreshing that Seligman has expanded the concept of happiness. I have been reading his books since 2003 and while I can appreciate the authenticity and genuineness, no to mention the scientifically backed research into positive psychology, I fear that most of the good bits can be easily lost in translation. By that I mean the difference between American and Scottish cultures.

I welcome any discussion that plays with the concept of positive psychology in a way that can help it evolve into politics, economics and other 'lived' social constructions in our public and private lives.

Thomas Munro
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Joined: 19/10/2007

Comment Posted: 19/11/2007 19:10
I have been giving courses on “Positive Thinking” for the last 5 years to engineering students at the university in İstanbul. This course contributed a lot to my personal positive thinking skills. The students also learnt a lot. I think happiness is a matter of choice. Being happy is a choice-trying to see the bright side. Life is full of choices, alternatives. Being happy is a continous struggle also in my opinion. Struggle to pick up the positives in any event or person but it also includes I think, leaving the current situation if it is not possible to feel happy and productive. Life is a process of endless learning. Happiness is also related to respecting the existence of human beings, trying to learn something new from that individual. I can increase my chance to feel happy if I am close to the nature. If I am accepted, valued, appreciated I will be happier. If I can think rationally, have reasonable expectations, know my limits, respect myself, do voluntary work my chance to feel happy will increse. I think the following poem also adds another dimension to the definition of happiness in our lives.
Leyla Fetihi.
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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