In April, Sue Langley and The Langley Group team were invited by the Happiness and Its Causes team to participate in a special event: An Afternoon with Martin Seligman.  The event started with a keynote presentation by Dr Seligman, followed by an interview and Q&A session, hosted by Sue.

In the sixth video of our series covering the interview with Sue Langley, Dr Martin Seligman shares his candid thoughts and knowledge around Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.

How did the people you worked with early on influence you?


I’ve noticed in your book, and I kept a note of it, you said that when you were younger…you had the Wittgenstein quote…about wanting to have followers. You wanted to be like Wittgenstein and have followers and that you feel that you have achieved it, and I definitely think that’s the case; there are people now who are carrying this (positive psychology) forward. There are so many people doing it. I wanted to go back and also think about some of the people that you’ve probably worked with early on, who were doing this sort of thing (and) not necessarily respected at that time (yet) probably are now, now there is a movement. People like Ed Diener and Ellen Langer; I have to admit I love their work and I think they are unsung heroes that sometimes people don’t hear of. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a little bit of time with Ellen and hear the irreverence sometimes of how she comes across and what she does and those sorts of things. How did some of those earlier people sort of help influence this as well??


So I didn’t discover positive psychology until about 1998 and part of the discovery was to find all the people who had been doing this before (yet) didn’t have a big tent to live in; who couldn’t get funding, people who couldn’t get promoted in their departments and the like. So it turned out there were people like Ellen, Ed Diener being the best example I think, he has done more good science than anyone else in the field of positive psychology and .. my role became trying to get them into the same hot tub, and get funders to fund them, and to give it a name and then importantly not just to do the science (yet), here is something I really want to try to say well….I am not a great believer in basic science…..physics and chemistry first had engineerings, so they predicted eclipses and they irrigated the desert and alchemy was really quite a success actually as an engineering.


Martin_Sue conversation_Apr18_small


So people knew what to do basic research on, because they first had stuff that worked in the world. (Yet) psychology never had an engineering, never had anything that worked in the world. It was, it is, to my way of thinking ‘wanking’.

The important test of psychology is to find things that work in the world, the sort of things that you do, and then go back and say that’s what basic researchers should work on.

So another important thrust of what happened when the big tent formed was not just to do the basic science and get the grants for the basic science, (it was) to show that it mattered by applying it in the world, applying it in companies, applying it in education, applying it in the military.

Don’t miss previous videos:

The Interview Continues…

Martin Seligman’s latest book ‘The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism’ is available in our online shop – find out more here.

To learn more about positive psychology, download your free white paper that distils the science, practice and impact of positive psychology on human happiness, performance and wellbeing.