On Saturday 6th December I delivered a 1-day workshop at Queen’s University called The Psychology of Happiness: How to Grow Your Happy Skills. Its purpose was to introduce the students to the new positive psychology movement, and to the thoughts of Martin Seligman and Mih√°ly Cs√≠kszentmih√°lyi in particular. Those who read the blog will know that I’ve reviewed Seligman’s latest work Authentic Happiness before, and I’ve also captured the two of them in a fascinating conversation.

In the workshop I did four things. First, I discussed Seligman’s analysis of the three types of happy life: the Pleasant Life, the Good Life, and the Meaningful Life. Then I explored the whole notion of optimism, perhaps Seligman’s main contribution to the field of academic psychology. After lunch, it was time to check out our signature strengths. Finally, we applied all this to the area of work, that most usual and difficult source of unhappiness.

During the course of the course, one of the students told me about a website called TED that contains all sorts of goodies on this type of topic. We had a look at it, and sure enough, it contained all manner of wonders. Here you can hear Martin Seligman on the state of positive psychology (which was so good, we actually watched it there and then). You can also hear Mihály Csíkszentmihályi on flow. Check them out. Its good at all times to go back to the sources!

After the workshop I received an email from another of the participants alerting me to a rather interesting critique of Authentic Happiness by a UK author and ‘existential therapist’. Some the the criticisms are in fact questions about research methodology or exhaustiveness of approach, and apply to any empirically-based theory. Others touch on points of philosophical definition, and take us outside the Seligman’s intended domain. But perspective is a virtue, and it is healthy to read all sides.

So was the workshop half empty or half full? It was full of people, full of ideas, full of discussion, and full of enthusiasm. Thanks to everyone who came and made it such a positively brilliant (or brilliantly positive?) day.