I came across a little nugget of gold in the otherwise dross-filled YouTube recently. It’s a live discussion between Mih√°ly Cs√≠kszentmih√°lyi and Martin Seligman on the Charlie Rose show on the subject of happiness.

This is a little like overhearing a conversation between Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler talk about playing the guitar…

For those of you who don’t know, these gentlemen are two of the biggest names in the contemporary self-help movement. Having said that, they are both professional psychologists and respectable academics, so don’t be too sore on them.

Cs√≠kszentmih√°lyi is famous for discovering the concept of ‘flow’. Flow is a mental state of complete concentration, when a task requiring skill totally absorbs the person undertaking it. In such a state they are intrinsically motivated to accomplish their task, and as such gain a feeling of great fulfillment, freedom and enjoyment. In a word, flow makes people happy. Very happy.

Seligman is the leader of the Positive Psychology movement in the US. He attempts to focus his research on human wellness rather than the usual emphasis on mental illness. ‘Learned helplessness’ is contrasted with the counter-intuitive concept of ‘learned optimism’. Seligman insists that happiness is a skill that can be acquired through training, just like any other.

The first part of the video is about the Palestinian Presidential elections. So move on to 28 mins to get to the relevant stuff. It makes for fascinating viewing!