Sunday, 31 January 2021

Flourish by Martin Seligman – a summary of key points

Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is one of the founding fathers of the Positive Psychology movement, and Flourish (2011) is the summary of how he and the team at Penn have applied these principles in different contexts.

Wellbeing - The Focus of Positive Psychology

For Seligman the focus of Positive Psychology is ‘Wellbeing’ rather than ‘Happiness’. He identifies three inadequacies in authentic happiness theory: 1) happiness is inextricably bound up with being in a cheerful mood; 2) life satisfaction holds too privileged a place; 3) “positive emotion, engagement and meaning do not exhaust elements that people choose for their own sake.” (p.13-14).

Wellbeing is a construct (like ‘weather’ or ‘freedom’) – no single measure defines it exhaustively (“operationalises” it).

The focal topic of positive Psychology is the construct of wellbeing, not the entity of life-satisfaction,

Wellbeing has five measurable elements (PERMA): (p.24)

1.      P ositive Emotion (of which happiness and life satisfaction are all elements.

2.      E ngagement

3.      R elationships (Positive Relationships)

4.      M eaning

5.      A ccomplishment

“The goal of Positive Psychology in wellbeing theory is measure and build human flourishing.” p.29  Therefore Wellbeing must be buildable.

Exercises that build Wellbeing

  1. The Gratitude Letter Write a letter of gratitude to someone who did or said something that changed your life for the better(300 words)
  2. What-Went-Well (Also called “Three Blessings”) Exercise.  Every night for a week at the end of the day write down three things that went well and why they went well.
  3. Signature/ Character Strengths Survey (  Getting people in touch with their strengths, rather than just trying to correct their weaknesses.This focuses on XXX signature/ character strengths, which can be organised into clusters

a)      Wisdom and Knowledge

                                                               i.      Curiosity/Interest in the world

                                                             ii.      Love of Learning

                                                           iii.      Judgement/Critical Thinking/ Open-mindedness

                                                           iv.      Ingenuity/Originality/Practical Intelligence/Street Smarts

                                                             v.      Social Intelligence/ Personal Intelligence/ Emotional Intelligence

                                                           vi.      Perspective

b)      Courage

                                                               i.      Valour and Bravery

                                                             ii.      Perseverance/ Industry/ Diligence

                                                           iii.      Integrity/Genuineness/Honesty

c)       Humanity and Love

                                                               i.      Kindness and Generosity

                                                             ii.      Loving and Allowing Oneself to be Loved

d)      Justice

                                                               i.      Citizenship/Duty/Teamwork/Loyalty

                                                             ii.      Fairness and Equity

                                                           iii.      Leadership

e)      Temperance

                                                               i.      Self-control

                                                             ii.      Prudence/Discretion/Caution

                                                           iii.      Humility and Modesty

f)        Transcendence

                                                               i.      Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

                                                             ii.      Gratitude

                                                           iii.      Hope/Optimism/Future-Mindedness

                                                           iv.      Spirituality/Sense of Purpose/Faith/Religiousness

                                                             v.      Forgiveness and Mercy

                                                           vi.      Playfulness and Humour

                                                         vii.      Zest/Passion/Enthusiasm

“Identify which of these character strengths you have in abundance and then use them as much as possible in school, in hobbies and with friends and family.” (p.84)

The Dirty Little Secret of Drugs and Therapy (Chapter 3)

  • According to the World Health Organisaton (WHO) depression is the most costly disease in the world and the treatments of choice are drugs and psychotherapy.
  • Drugs and therapies for depression are not curative but cosmetic – they do not cure, they relieve the symptoms.
  • Seligman argues that cure comes through building the enabling conditions for life. Positive Psychology can provide a lasting cure by building ‘positive emotion, meaning, accomplishment and positive relationships’ (p.53).

Positive Education: Teaching Wellbeing to Young People (Chapter 5)

Three reasons for teaching Positive Psychology in Schools:

“Wellbeing should be taught in schools because it would be an antidote to the runaway incidence of depression, a way to increase life satisfaction, and an aid to better learning and more creative thinking.” (p.80)

  1. Penn Resiliency Program (PRP) Aims

a.       Aims

                                                               i.      to increase students’ ability to handle day-to-day problems that are common during adolescence.

                                                             ii.      To promote optimism by teaching students to think more realistically about the problems they encounter

                                                           iii.      To teach key skills (assertiveness, creative brainstorming, decision-making, relaxation and several other coping skills).

b.      Research findings:

                                                               i.      Reduces and prevents symptoms of depression.

                                                             ii.      Reduces hopelessness.

                                                           iii.      Prevents clinical levels of depression and anxiety.

                                                           iv.      Reduces and prevents anxiety.

                                                             v.      Reduces conduct problems.

                                                           vi.      PRP works equally well for children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

2.     Geelong Grammar School

a.     Teaching Positive Education

                                                               i.      “The backbone of the course was discovering and using their own signature strengths.”(p.89)

                                                             ii.      How to build more positive emotion (10th Grade)

1.      Gratitude Journal - What Went Well

2.      ABC Model: How beliefs (B) about an adversity (A) – and not the adversity itself – cause the consequent (C) feelings. Development of ‘real-time resilience’.

3.      Active-constructive responding (ACR) with a friend and the importance of a 3:1 Losada positive-to-negative ratio.

b.      Embedding Positive Education

                                                               i.      Geelong teachers embedded positive education into academic courses, on the sports field, in pastoral counselling, in music and in the chapel.

c.       Living Positive Education

3.  Positive Computing p.93

a.     “Personal Flourishing Assistant” mobile app that tags experiences to build a “positive portfolio” – e.g. four peak moments from the last week.

b. -games that build character strengths.

4.      A new measure of prosperity

a.       “The aim of wealth should not be to blindly produce a higher GDP but to produce more wellbeing.” (p.96)

Sociology, Psychology and Positive Character

Social science has highjacked society’s thinking with the philosophy that the environment, rather than character or heredity is a better explanation of what people do.

The consequence of this is four-fold:

  • Individuals are no longer responsible for their actions, since the causes lie not in the person but in the situation;
  • Social science must isolate the situations that shape crime, ignorance, prejudice, failure and all the other ills that befall human beings, so that these situations can be corrected.
  • The focus of inquiry must be bad events;
  • We are driven by the past rather than drawn to the future.

Positive Psychology has a different approach

  • The world can be bettered by identifying and then shaping character, both good and bad.

Elements of Success

Theory: Achievement = skill x effort  -  Angela Duckworth

  1. 1.      Speed – of thought, processing

a.       Achievement = skill x effort

b.      The more skilled, the faster you can go

c.       The faster, the more material on automatic, the more one knows about the task.

  1. 2.      Slowness:

a.       Speed and anxiety go together

b.      Children who process too fast - Tools of the Mind curriculum

c.       The voluntary, heavyweight processes of achievement, such as planning, refining, checking for errors and creativity.

d.      The faster the speed, the more the knowledge, and thus the more time left for these executive functions to be used.

  1. 3.      The Rate of Learning

a.       How fast new information can be deposited into the back account of automatic knowledge, allowing even more time for the slow executive processes.

  1. 4.      Effort: = time on task   *this has a multiplier effect

a.       “Deliberate Practice” = the amount of time and energy you spend on deliberate practice.

b.      Self-discipline is the character trait that engenders deliberate practice

c.       Measuring self-discipline – composite measure

                                                               i.      Eysenck Junior Impulsiveness scale

                                                             ii.      A parent and teacher self-control rating scale

                                                           iii.      Delay of gratification

d.      GRIT (the never yielding form of self-discipline) test p.121

“The real leverage that you have for more achievement is more effort.” (p.125)

Effort multiplies existing skill and knowledge.

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