“I’ve always been bewildered by the universe.” With that opening, Marty Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, dove into telling us about what he called “probably the best two weeks of my life.” Stay bewildered, stay curious, and always be learning.
The “us” he was speaking to were three dozen students who had been selected to pursue a Master’s Degree in Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Essentially, we’re looking at what works – and how to create more of it.
At Canterbury, Marty pulled together theologians and scientists, asking them to suspend their belief and disbelief to explore together all the possible reasons for numinous experiences. Then he met with colleagues from China who are committed to enhance well-being. “The two superpowers, the United States and China, are very different,” he said. “How can we develop trust between these two cultures? Well-being could be the connection – to stop us from picking up the red phone when there is a misunderstanding, and the missiles go off.” For both of these projects, Canterbury and China, he created momentum, funding and foundations to advance his vision.
He also shared a dream he had four decades ago in which he was in The Guggenheim Museum, looking into one of the rooms where everyone was playing cards. Then the roof opened and God appeared to him saying, “Seligman, at least you are starting to ask the right questions,” and his life direction changed. And, as a result, so did ours.
When we took a break, I mentioned that in my readings I’d been particularly impressed with Chris Peterson, and that I was sorry that I didn’t get a chance to meet him. Then I asked Marty to tell me what Chris was like. First Marty looked inward. He paused, then said, “I miss him. There are so many things I cannot do without him.”
Particularly when listening to Marty, I am reminded that Chandra Sripada, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, told us that neuroscientists have been able to determine that our brain oscillates between being outward for 50 seconds and inward for 50 seconds. There we are: observing outward, then integrating inward.
I will also carry with me James Pawelski, the Founding Director of the Program, asking us to consider that authenticity might have to do with being the authors of our own lives. “We could be writing our own stories – our own narratives,” he offered. Then, he added, “Be flexible about what works. And be open to it.” He also reminded us that “the things that are important in life are not simple.” And he left us with such gems as: “The questions we ask can make all the difference in the world,” and “Positive psychology is the flashlight that illuminates that which is inside of all of us…which may have been in the dark.” The flashlight. Perfect.