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../0198/Martin%20Seligman's%20Journey%20from%20Learned%20Helplessness%20to%20Learned%20Happiness.%20By%20Rob%20HirtzDr. Martin E.P. Seligman, Gr'67, professor of psychology, is delivering the keynote address at the annual conference of the North Carolina Psychological Association. Though he has been delivering riveting lectures on psychology for three decades now, this speech is a little different.
   Speaking to his fellow psychologists as their national leader -- the 1998 President of the American Psychological Association (APA), the world's largest professional mental-health organization, with more than 155,000 members -- his message is clear and blunt: He wants American psychology (and psychologists) to change.
   This is not totally unexpected by his audience. Since 1995, when Seligman first started campaigning for the APA presidency, he has been actively advocating for the field of psychology to expand its myopic focus on treating mental illness to include promoting mental health.
   On this balmy October night, Seligman warns his audience that some parts of his speech will sound downright "uncongenial." This too, is not totally unexpected. By the time Seligman finished earning his Ph.D. at Penn in 1967, he had already become internationally known as one of the brash and brilliant enfants terribles who so often move science forward. (As Dr. Henry Gleitman, another venerated Penn psychology professor and a long-time poker companion of Seligman's, put it: "Marty reminds me of the young Orson Welles sometimes purposely naive, sometimes enormously sophisticated, often appearing larger than life. Like Welles, Marty has occasionally been a sort of enfant terrible -- and he can exude that look and aura of gravitas like Orson -- but goodness, he's nowhere near that fat!")
   Tonight, in this North Carolina hotel ballroom packed with hundreds of psychologists, many of whom still have a little dinner or dessert left to eat, the room falls into an utter and foreboding silence. These psychotherapists, like TV's Dr. Frazier Crane, are listening.
   "I was out weeding in my garden last summer with my daughter, Nicki, who had turned five, some 11 months earlier," Seligman began. "Now, you should know that I'm a very serious gardener, and this particular afternoon, I'm very focused on what I'm doing -- which is weeding. Nicki, on the other hand, is having fun. Weeds are flying up in the air, dirt is spraying everywhere."
   Seligman pauses. "Now, I should mention here, that despite all my work on optimism, I've always been somewhat of a nimbus cloud around my house. And despite all my work with children, and despite having five children of my own, ages five to 29, I'm really not that good with kids. And so, kneeling that afternoon in my garden, I yelled at Nicki."
   Seligman looks down at the podium. Reliving that moment obviously hurts. Then he raises his head again, and forges on.
   "Nicki got a stern look on her face, and she walked right over to me. 'Daddy,' she said, 'I want to talk with you.' And this is just what she said. 'From the time I was three until I was five, I whined a lot. But I decided the day I turned five, to stop whining. And I haven't whined once since the day I turned five.'"
   Seligman pauses for the simmering chuckles, and continues. "Then Nicki looked me right in the eye, and said 'Daddy, if I could stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch.'"
   The room erupts with laughter, and Seligman holds the crowd in the palm of his hand.

Continued...
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