From Learned Helplessness to Learned Hopefulness with Martin Seligman

June 4, 2020

“Basically, I found myself asking the question: “What was missing in psychology?” And what was present in something psychology could be proud of was that psychotherapy actually worked, that it helped a good number of people, and it was well liked. But what psychology was missing was “What makes life worth living?” – Martin Seligman

Today it’s great to have Dr. Martin Seligman on the podcast. Dr. Seligman is Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center, the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the Penn Department of Psychology, and Director of the Penn Master of Applied Positive Psychology Program. Commonly known as the founder of positive psychology, Dr. Seligman is a leading authority in the fields of positive psychology, resilience, learned helplessness, depression, optimism, and pessimism.

He is also a recognized authority on interventions that prevent depression, and that build strengths and well-being. He has written more than 250 scholarly publications and 20 books, including Flourish, Authentic Happiness, Learned Optimism, Character Strengths and Virtues (which was co-authored with Chris Peterson), and his autobiography The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism.

Time Stamps


[00:36]              Introduction of Martin Seligman


[01:42]              Dr. Seligman shares about his new book on human agency


[04:18]              The belief in free will


[06:37]              Dr. Seligman’s research on learned helplessness


[09:15]              How hope can be learned


[11:56]              The numinous dream that impacted Dr. Seligman and his research


[15:03]              Dr. Seligman’s research on optimism


[17:53]              On Dr. Seligman running for president of American Psychological Association (APA)


[21:12]              The founding of positive psychology and what makes life worth living


[22:51]              The “gardening incident” that inspired creating a movement


[24:57]             Dr. Seligman reflects on top character traits and strengths


[26:00]             How positive psychology can help people during and after the pandemic


[32:39]              Dr. Seligman endorses the “smiley face’ and trying to have fun during the pandemic


[35:22]              Good criticisms of positive psychology


[39:58]              Dr. Seligman’s view on humanistic psychology


[43:06]              Comparing Dr. Seligman’s expertise in psychology with playing Bridge


[46:45]              Different kinds of creative ideas


[51:26]              The importance of having a sense of the audience for creativity


[54:06]             The future of psychotherapy and helping people focus on the future through prospection


[55:05]              Dr. Seligman’s final message


Call to Action

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2 Responses to “From Learned Helplessness to Learned Hopefulness with Martin Seligman”

  1. John Bolton says:

    Hats off to you Scott for getting Dr. Seligman onto the podcast. I was really interested to hear that he hadn’t experienced humanistic psychology and hence had declared pos. psych to be a new departure for the field.
    Whatever the merits of this explanation are (can such a well-connected, erudite and conscientious psychologist really have been unaware of humanistic psychology for so long?), it shows the importance of the work you do Scott. Psychology is plagued by one-upmanship and too few scientists are connecting fields separated only by semantics. That’s why I love and really respect your own efforts in synthesis which are so important in advancing truth.
    Thank you!

  2. Rick says:

    Great show, Scott! I love hearing and learning from Dr. Seligman. Though, I might caution his take on Augustine and free will and self-efficacy. Augustine actually wrote a work called On Free Will and his Confessions tacitly acknowledge one’s ability to break free from selfish and addictive behaviors by learning to choose good things. I think Dr. Seligman thinks Augustine’s critique of the Pelagians denies free will. The critique is over the role grace plays in choices not on the freedom that comes with choices.

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