5 positive psychology happiness secrets from Martin Seligman, Ellen Langer and other happiness experts

I recently had the privilege of attending a yearly event in Sydney called ‘Happiness and Its Causes‘.  Led by world-renowned founder of Positive Psychology Martin Seligman (pictured here conducting ‘Comprehensive Soldier Fitness’ training), the event was a fascinating melting pot of eastern philosophy, western science and personal stories of triumph.


As a Psychologist and Trainer, I thought it would be fitting that I went through my top 5 insights gained from the event. Many of these things I myself have known for quite some time, but it’s sure good to see the science continuing to build cases for the creation of a very different world than the one we are used to today.


1. Growth is better than cure!

Dr Martin Seligman is the founder of Positive Psychology and explores the latest research in his new book Flourishing. One of his key areas of work has been the infusing of Positive Psychology training with the 1.1 million officers of the US army.

Rather than focusing on adding additional funds to programs for injured soldiers, his response was to create a training system for the army where officers can become better, stronger and happier people.

Why do this?

Because the stronger and more emotionally resilient you are, the better you will be able to respond to pressure, crisis and tragedy. Emotionally resilient people after a traumatic event still ‘go through hell’ but rather than remaining traumatised for years afterwards, they actually grow to become emotionally stronger.

Now does that mean you should forget about assisting the chronically traumatised? Of course not! They will always and should always receive care. But the more people you can strengthen before such a possible event, the better outcomes you will have.

And of course there are so many other side effects to being happier as well.


2. You are capable of so much more than you realize. 

Professor Ellen Langer, author of Counterclockwise has done some remarkable research around the power of possibility and turning back the clock. She spoke of how when expectations are increased, abilities increase.

Her most famous study involved a group of 80 year old men who were used to doing very little for themselves. She took them to a house designed to look and feel like life in the 1970’s and in just one week, the men significantly and substantially improved in all major areas of life.

Mobility, memory, happiness, strength, self-reliance and more.

Another quick example of shifting expectation and breaking patterns involved the classic eye chart. She found that just by reversing the order of the chart, so the little letters were at the top and the big letters were at the bottom, many people who previously could not see the small letters now could.


3. Well-being needs to become the new measure of prosperity.

The global financial crisis has not only devastated current generations, it is likely to affect future generations. For the first time in Western culture, the majority of the upcoming generation are likely to be financially worse off than previous one.

But then, is money the goal of life. There is a push for well-being to be the new measure of prosperity. Finances are still important and always will be, but overall well-being is the real goal in my opinion. This issue is starting to be taken seriously. The UK for instance has committed to measuring citizen well-being and implementing policies and programs to cultivate it.

There is also numerous pieces of research stating that money does not equal happiness. During the conference, the relationship between money and happiness was explored by Ross Gittens.


4.  Dying is a part of life, so be prepared to die well. 

People who live well, die well. The more peace you cultivate in your life, the more peaceful your death is likely to be. According to Sogyal Rinpoche who wrote the best-seller The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and mind body medicine pioneer, Dr Ian Gawler, death is the most important part of life and the aim is to live well and die well.

Considering death is generally the most taboo subject in the world, by facing the reality of it and being prepared for it (as it will happen at some point), you can move towards a peaceful transition.

How do you want to die? Think about it, because when you can answer that honestly, you just might learn how to live better too.


5. Active positive relationships are the key to success, happiness and harmony.

I’ve always said that the most important thing in life is the cultivation of quality relationships. Everything is about relationships. Success in business, work, intimacy, friendship, family and even the self (the way you treat yourself is crucial)… is determined by the quality of your relationships.

Presidential award winning researcher Shelly Gable argues that the key to fantastic relationships is not about fighting less, but actively praising more. In fact, in her research, this was the number 1 factor in regards to whether people remain together or not.

Think of it like a bank account. Everytime you praise, encourage and show an active interest in your partner and their successes, you are making large deposits. So when there are arguments (withdrawals), you’re still going to have a positive balance.

So how do you do this? I think of it like positive story telling and discussion of skilled applications. For example, if your partner has just been promoted, the best response is not just to say congratulations, but to also enquire about why they deserved it, what skills they utilized to achieve it, and how they will continue to use those skills and abilities to grow in the future. In other words, create and share a positive story together about the victory and the positive future success that are likely to occur as well.


Have you recently attended the ‘Happiness and its Causes’ event or something similar? Feel free to share the most important things you have learnt by commenting below. 


Article image found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/3614273672/sizes/s/in/photostream/

2 Responses to “5 positive psychology happiness secrets from Martin Seligman, Ellen Langer and other happiness experts”

  1. Aleks, thanks so much for sharing this report on the highlights of the conference.

    As I put into practice the lessons I’ve learned recently, you have to work at happiness. It takes discipline and effort; it doesn’t happen by itself. Here are some of my reflections on happiness.

    1. Growth is a continual process that requires daily practice. If you stop taking control of your mind every single day, you stop making progress.

    2. Happiness is a state of being. I challenge myself to talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person I meet.

    3. How ever you measure happiness, it is not something that a government policy or program can instill in its citizens. You can’t downplay the importance of financial security. It is one of the top concerns of midlifers and beyond, along with health and a sense of meaning.

    4. I’m still working at cultivating detachment and mindfulness, stepping stones to happiness.

    5. You are the gardener and your friends are the flowers in your garden. You have to nourish constantly your relationships.
    Listen to the lively interview I did with Aleks on “Authentic Happiness.” You will also want to catch the inspirational interview I did with John.

    Check out my blog post today at http://www.happiness-after-midlife.com/midlife-crisis-coping-blog.html for a link to the interview I did with Aleks.

  2. aleks

    Wow, thanks for your great comments Frank. I especially like the second thing you said. I always say – engage people the way you want to be engaged. It leads to much more inspiring and productive interaction.