Seligman, Martin E. P. 1942–

views updated

SELIGMAN, Martin E. P. 1942–

PERSONAL: Born August 12, 1942, in Albany, NY; married Mandy McCarthy; children: Amanda, David, Lara, Nicole, Darryl, Carly. Education: Princeton University, A.B. (summa cum laude), 1964; University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D., 1967.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 3815 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104-6196. E-mail[email protected]; [email protected]

CAREER: Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, assistant professor, 1967–70; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, visiting associate professor, 1970–71, associate professor, 1972–76, professor of psychology, 1976–, director of clinical program, 1980–94, Fox Leadership Professor, 1999–, Positive Psychology Center, director, 2000–. Prevention and Treatment (electronic journal of the American Psychological Association), founding editor-in-chief, 1997–; InterPsych (international electronic union of psychiatrists and psychologists), founding president, 1994–95; member of various boards; consultant; visiting professor at universities.

MEMBER: American Psychological Association (member of board of directors, 1997–99; president, 1998), Eastern Psychological Association, Psychonomic Society, American Academy of Political and Social Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow), Council of Scientific Society Presidents, National Association for Gifted Children, Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy, American Psychopathological Association, Society for Research in Psychopathology, American Psychological Society, Association for the Advancement of Psychology, Pennsylvania Psychological Association, Association of Practicing Psychologists, New Jersey Psychological Association, North Carolina Psychological Association, American Psychosomatic Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi.

AWARDS, HONORS: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) fellow, 1963–64, grant, 1969; Philosophy of Mind Prize, Princeton University, 1964; Woodrow Wilson fellow, 1964–65; National Science Foundation (NSF) fellowship, 1964–67; Guggenheim fellow, 1974–75; APA awards, 1976, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1997; Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences fellow, 1978–79; honorary doctorates from Uppsala University (Sweden), 1989, and Massachusetts College of Professional Psychology, 1997; Merit award, NIMH, 1991–2002; American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology award, 1992; Pennsylvania Psychological Association award, 1995; Zubin Award, Society for Research in Psychotherapy, 1997; public health award, Kaiser-Permanente, 1998; Arthur Staats Award, 2000; NIMH grants, 2001–05 and 2002–06; National Association for Gifted Children award, 2005.


(Compiler, with Joanne L. Hager) Biological Boundaries of Learning, Appleton-Century-Crofts (New York, NY), 1972.

Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death, W. H. Freeman (San Francisco, CA), 1975, reprinted with new introduction, 1992.

(Editor, with Jack D. Maser) Psychopathology: Experimental Models, W. H. Freeman (San Francisco, CA), 1977.

(Editor, with Judy Garber) Human Helplessness: Theory and Applications, Academic Press (New York, NY), 1980.

(With David L. Rosenhan) Abnormal Psychology, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1984, fourth revised edition, 2001.

Learned Optimism, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Christopher Peterson and Steven F. Maier) Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993.

What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

The Optimistic Child, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.

(Editor, with Gregory McClellan Buchanan) Explanatory Style, Erlbaum (Hillsdale, NJ), 1995.

(With David L. Rosenhan) Abnormality, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1998.

(Editor, with Daniel Chirot) Ethnopolitical Warfare: Causes, Consequences, and Possible Solutions, American Psychological Association (Washington, DC), 2001.

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Free Press (New York, NY), 2002.

(Editor, with Christopher Peterson) Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, American Psychological Association (Washington, DC), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

(Editor, with others) Treating and Preventing Adolescent Mental Health Disorders: What We Know and What We Don't Know, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to professional journals and mainstream periodicals, including Redbook, Time, Newsweek, Parents, Family Circle, New York Times, Fortune, Reader's Digest, and USA Today; member of editorial boards, including Applied Psychology, Behavior Research and Therapy, Journal of Preventive Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, Philosophical Psychology, and Journal of Psychological Practice.

SIDELIGHTS: Martin E. P. Seligman is a much-honored psychologist and former president of the American Psychological Association. On his home page at University of Pennsylvania Web site, it is stated that "since 2000 his main mission has been the promotion of the field of positive psychology. This discipline includes the study of positive emotion, positive character traits, and positive institutions."

This theme is apparent in Seligman's writings. He admits in his book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment that he was grouchy and pessimistic until age fifty, when his young daughter told him that she had given up being "a whiner" on her fifth birthday, inspiring him to make a similar change. In his Learned Optimism, he draws on studies of depression—the higher incidence of it and its causes, which he attributes, in part, to the loss of the institutions that had historically provided support, including the family and spirituality. He contends that pessimistic people tend to think that their misfortunes are their own doing, give up more easily, and become depressed more often, while optimists tend to pick themselves up and keep going, the reason why he proposes that former try to be more like the latter, to increase their happiness and quality of life. In What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement, the author offers hope by demonstrating that meditation, psychoanalysis, relaxation, and various therapies can help in controlling anxiety and depression. Seligman addresses the subject of childhood depression in The Optimistic Child. He instructs parents on encouraging optimism in their children, noting that children who feel good about themselves do better.

Alison Stein Wellner and David Adox wrote about the "positive psychology" movement in Psychology Today, noting that Seligman "believes that only a small number of the eighteen million people diagnosed with depression actually suffer from biologically based depression, which, he says, means our conception of depression is all wrong. It is not something created by rejection or childhood traumas that make us feel bad or say negative things, he says. It's much less complex than that. Maybe, 'what looks like a symptom of depression—negative thinking—is itself the disease,' Seligman says. This thought has driven him to devote a large part of his life's work to learning how to change patterns of negative thinking."

Wilson Quarterly reviewer Ann Hulbert called Authentic Happiness "a guide that portrays the pursuit of hope and happiness as a serious, rigorous mission rather than a frivolous illusion or mere feel-goodism." Seligman instructs that happiness can be obtained or intensified when humans express kindness, offer generosity, and find humor in daily life, and that rather than rely on temporary pleasures, like watching television or shopping, individuals should cultivate what he calls our "signature strengths," or virtues, and employ them in everyday life. Among the virtues defined are wisdom/knowledge, courage, love and humanity, justice, temperance, and spirituality and transcendence, and each has a subset of strengths identified in the book, which also contains exercises and tests. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "skeptics will wonder whether it's possible to learn happiness from a book. Their point may be valid, but Seligman provides the attitude adjustment and practical tools … for charting the course."

In 2000, Seligman was honored with a selection of essays collected in his name, The Science of Optimism and Hope: Research Essays in Honor of Martin E. P. Seligman. Contributors wrote on a variety of subjects related to optimism and hope and noted the effect Seligman has had on their own work, how they are able to see problems in a new way and hope where there previously was none.

Research efforts appear in Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, edited by Se-ligman and Christopher Peterson. Published in 2004, Character Strengths and Virtues features a groundbreaking first progress report that documents the work of the Values in Action Classification Project, which is classifying and measuring universal strengths and virtues, work valuable to psychologists who have an interest in positive psychology and its impact on clinical, personality, and social psychology.



Gillham, Jane E., editor, The Science of Optimism and Hope: Research Essays in Honor of Martin E. P. Seligman, Templeton Foundation Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2000.

Seligman, Martin E. P., Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Free Press (New York, NY), 2002.


Adolescence, winter, 2004, review of Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, p. 838.

American Journal of Psychology, winter, 1996, Louis A. Gottschalk, review of Explanatory Style, p. 624.

Newsweek, September 16, 2002, Geoffrey Cowley, review of Authentic Happiness, p. 46.

Psychology Today, February, 1987, Robert J. Trotter, "Stop blaming yourself; how you explain unfortunate events to yourself may influence your achievements as well as your health," p. 30; May, 2000, Alison Stein Wellner, David Adox, "Happy Days," p. 32.

Publishers Weekly, December 7, 1990, review of Learned Optimism, p. 62; November 29, 1993, review of What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement, p. 50; July 24, 1995, review of The Optimistic Child, p. 61; June 24, 2002, review of Authentic Happiness, p. 48.

Reclaiming Children and Youth, spring, 2004, Jerry J. Wellik and John H. Hoover, review of Authentic Happiness, p. 59.

Wilson Quarterly, winter, 2003, Ann Hulbert, review of Authentic Happiness, p. 119.


Martin E. P. Seligman Home Page, (May 30, 2004).

Positive Psychology Center, (July 29, 2005).