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  • When I was president of the American Psychological Association,

  • they tried to media-train me,

  • and an encounter I had with CNN

  • summarizes what I'm going to be talking about today,

  • which is the eleventh reason to be optimistic.

  • The editor of Discover told us 10 of them,

  • I'm going to give you the eleventh.

  • So they came to me -- CNN -- and they said, "Professor Seligman,

  • would you tell us about the state of psychology today?

  • We'd like to interview you about that." And I said, "Great."

  • And she said, "But this is CNN, so you only get a sound bite."

  • So I said, "Well, how many words do I get?"

  • And she said, "Well, one."

  • (Laughter)

  • And cameras rolled, and she said, "Professor Seligman,

  • what is the state of psychology today?"

  • "Good."

  • (Laughter)

  • "Cut. Cut. That won't do.

  • We'd really better give you a longer sound bite."

  • "Well, how many words do I get this time?" "I think, well, you get two.

  • Doctor Seligman, what is the state of psychology today?"

  • "Not good."

  • (Laughter)

  • "Look, Doctor Seligman,

  • we can see you're really not comfortable in this medium.

  • We'd better give you a real sound bite.

  • This time you can have three words.

  • Professor Seligman, what is the state of psychology today?"

  • "Not good enough." And that's what I'm going to be talking about.

  • I want to say why psychology was good, why it was not good

  • and how it may become, in the next 10 years, good enough.

  • And by parallel summary, I want to say the same thing about technology,

  • about entertainment and design, because I think the issues are very similar.

  • So, why was psychology good?

  • Well, for more than 60 years, psychology worked within the disease model.

  • Ten years ago, when I was on an airplane

  • and I introduced myself to my seatmate, and told them what I did,

  • they'd move away from me.

  • And because, quite rightly, they were saying

  • psychology is about finding what's wrong with you. Spot the loony.

  • And now, when I tell people what I do, they move toward me.

  • And what was good about psychology,

  • about the 30 billion dollar investment NIMH made,

  • about working in the disease model,

  • about what you mean by psychology,

  • is that, 60 years ago, none of the disorders were treatable --

  • it was entirely smoke and mirrors.

  • And now, 14 of the disorders are treatable,

  • two of them actually curable.

  • And the other thing that happened is that a science developed,

  • a science of mental illness.

  • That we found out that we could take fuzzy concepts -- like depression, alcoholism --

  • and measure them with rigor.

  • That we could create a classification of the mental illnesses.

  • That we could understand the causality of the mental illnesses.

  • We could look across time at the same people --

  • people, for example, who were genetically vulnerable to schizophrenia --

  • and ask what the contribution of mothering, of genetics are,

  • and we could isolate third variables

  • by doing experiments on the mental illnesses.

  • And best of all, we were able, in the last 50 years,

  • to invent drug treatments and psychological treatments.

  • And then we were able to test them rigorously,

  • in random assignment, placebo controlled designs,

  • throw out the things that didn't work, keep the things that actively did.

  • And the conclusion of that is that psychology and psychiatry, over the last 60 years,

  • can actually claim that we can make miserable people less miserable.

  • And I think that's terrific. I'm proud of it.

  • But what was not good, the consequences of that were three things.

  • The first was moral,

  • that psychologists and psychiatrists became victimologists, pathologizers,

  • that our view of human nature was that if you were in trouble, bricks fell on you.

  • And we forgot that people made choices and decisions.

  • We forgot responsibility. That was the first cost.

  • The second cost was that we forgot about you people.

  • We forgot about improving normal lives.

  • We forgot about a mission to make relatively untroubled people happier,

  • more fulfilled, more productive. And "genius," "high-talent," became a dirty word.

  • No one works on that.

  • And the third problem about the disease model is,

  • in our rush to do something about people in trouble,

  • in our rush to do something about repairing damage,

  • it never occurred to us to develop interventions

  • to make people happier, positive interventions.

  • So that was not good.

  • And so, that's what led people like Nancy Etcoff, Dan Gilbert,

  • Mike Csikszentmihalyi and myself to work in something I call positive psychology,

  • which has three aims.

  • The first is that psychology should be just as concerned

  • with human strength as it is with weakness.

  • It should be just as concerned with building strength as with repairing damage.

  • It should be interested in the best things in life.

  • And it should be just as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling,

  • and with genius, with nurturing high talent.

  • So in the last 10 years and the hope for the future,

  • we've seen the beginnings of a science of positive psychology,

  • a science of what makes life worth living.

  • It turns out that we can measure different forms of happiness.

  • And any of you, for free, can go to that website

  • and take the entire panoply of tests of happiness.

  • You can ask, how do you stack up for positive emotion, for meaning,

  • for flow, against literally tens of thousands of other people?

  • We created the opposite of the diagnostic manual of the insanities:

  • a classification of the strengths and virtues that looks at the sex ratio,

  • how they're defined, how to diagnose them,

  • what builds them and what gets in their way.

  • We found that we could discover the causation of the positive states,

  • the relationship between left hemispheric activity

  • and right hemispheric activity as a cause of happiness.

  • I've spent my life working on extremely miserable people,

  • and I've asked the question,

  • how do extremely miserable people differ from the rest of you?

  • And starting about six years ago, we asked about extremely happy people.

  • And how do they differ from the rest of us?

  • And it turns out there's one way.

  • They're not more religious, they're not in better shape,

  • they don't have more money, they're not better looking,

  • they don't have more good events and fewer bad events.

  • The one way in which they differ: they're extremely social.

  • They don't sit in seminars on Saturday morning.

  • (Laughter)

  • They don't spend time alone.

  • Each of them is in a romantic relationship

  • and each has a rich repertoire of friends.

  • But watch out here. This is merely correlational data, not causal,

  • and it's about happiness in the first Hollywood sense I'm going to talk about:

  • happiness of ebullience and giggling and good cheer.

  • And I'm going to suggest to you that's not nearly enough, in just a moment.

  • We found we could begin to look at interventions over the centuries,

  • from the Buddha to Tony Robbins.

  • About 120 interventions have been proposed

  • that allegedly make people happy.

  • And we find that we've been able to manualize many of them,

  • and we actually carry out random assignment

  • efficacy and effectiveness studies.

  • That is, which ones actually make people lastingly happier?

  • In a couple of minutes, I'll tell you about some of those results.

  • But the upshot of this is that the mission I want psychology to have,

  • in addition to its mission of curing the mentally ill,

  • and in addition to its mission of making miserable people less miserable,

  • is can psychology actually make people happier?

  • And to ask that question -- happy is not a word I use very much --

  • we've had to break it down into what I think is askable about happy.

  • And I believe there are three different --

  • and I call them different because different interventions build them,

  • it's possible to have one rather than the other --

  • three different happy lives.

  • The first happy life is the pleasant life.

  • This is a life in which you have as much positive emotion as you possibly can,

  • and the skills to amplify it.

  • The second is a life of engagement --

  • a life in your work, your parenting, your love, your leisure, time stops for you.

  • That's what Aristotle was talking about.

  • And third, the meaningful life.

  • So I want to say a little bit about each of those lives

  • and what we know about them.

  • The first life is the pleasant life and it's simply, as best we can find it,

  • it's having as many of the pleasures as you can,

  • as much positive emotion as you can,

  • and learning the skills -- savoring, mindfulness -- that amplify them,

  • that stretch them over time and space.

  • But the pleasant life has three drawbacks,

  • and it's why positive psychology is not happy-ology and why it doesn't end here.

  • The first drawback is that it turns out the pleasant life,

  • your experience of positive emotion, is heritable,

  • about 50 percent heritable, and, in fact, not very modifiable.

  • So the different tricks that Matthieu [Ricard] and I and others know

  • about increasing the amount of positive emotion in your life

  • are 15 to 20 percent tricks, getting more of it.

  • Second is that positive emotion habituates. It habituates rapidly, indeed.

  • It's all like French vanilla ice cream, the first taste is a 100 percent;

  • by the time you're down to the sixth taste, it's gone.

  • And, as I said, it's not particularly malleable.

  • And this leads to the second life.

  • And I have to tell you about my friend, Len,

  • to talk about why positive psychology is more than positive emotion,

  • more than building pleasure.

  • In two of the three great arenas of life, by the time Len was 30,

  • Len was enormously successful. The first arena was work.

  • By the time he was 20, he was an options trader.

  • By the time he was 25, he was a multimillionaire

  • and the head of an options trading company.

  • Second, in play -- he's a national champion bridge player.

  • But in the third great arena of life, love, Len is an abysmal failure.

  • And the reason he was, was that Len is a cold fish.

  • (Laughter)

  • Len is an introvert.

  • American women said to Len, when he dated them,

  • "You're no fun. You don't have positive emotion. Get lost."

  • And Len was wealthy enough to be able to afford a Park Avenue psychoanalyst,

  • who for five years tried to find the sexual trauma

  • that had somehow locked positive emotion inside of him.

  • But it turned out there wasn't any sexual trauma.

  • It turned out that -- Len grew up in Long Island

  • and he played football and watched football, and played bridge --

  • Len is in the bottom five percent of what we call positive affectivities.

  • The question is, is Len unhappy? And I want to say not.

  • Contrary to what psychology told us about the bottom 50 percent

  • of the human race in positive affectivity,

  • I think Len is one of the happiest people I know.

  • He's not consigned to the hell of unhappiness

  • and that's because Len, like most of you, is enormously capable of flow.

  • When he walks onto the floor of the American Exchange at 9:30 in the morning,

  • time stops for him. And it stops till the closing bell.

  • When the first card is played,

  • until 10 days later, the tournament is over, time stops for Len.

  • 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.