The MAPP is offered through the University’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS). (Until Fall 2008, LPS was called the College of General Studies, which is why graduates from classes before that have CGS after their names.) The full-time, one-year program mixes 10 residential stays on campus (an initial five-day introduction and orientation in September, followed by Friday-Saturday-Sunday meetings through the academic year) with distance learning by telephone, webcast, and other online methods, which vary by course and individual instructor.

All students take the same eight classes (four per semester), a sequence that begins with Seligman’s Introduction to Positive Psychology, detailing the field’s “research, theory, and intellectual history.” Other courses look at research methods and evaluation, examine different approaches to “the good life,” analyze character strengths and virtues, and explore how positive psychology can be applied to individuals and organizations. Students also cover the foundations of “positive interventions”—exercises shown to increase happiness—and participate in a service-learning course to “study the applied work of master positive psychology practitioners and create positive psychology applications for non-profit organizations.” A summer independent study capstone project “that integrates what the student has learned in the MAPP program and advances the application of positive psychology” completes the requirements for the master’s degree.

MAPP alumni range widely in age—the youngest graduate to date was 23 and the oldest 63—and come from pretty much all over: Europe (England, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Scotland), Asia (South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates), Australia, and New Zealand, as well as the United States.

In the current class, which will complete work this August, there are two students who commute from the UK, two from New Zealand, and one from Australia. At 45 members, this class is MAPP’s largest ever; previous classes have ranged from 34 to 41, selected from hundreds of applicants.

With most students holding down full-time jobs while they attain their degree, MAPP is not for the undisciplined or unmotivated. Nor is it for those seeking New Age enlightenment.

“I wanted to learn something based on hard science that would provide me with a competitive edge,” explains Brian Selander CGS’08, currently the chief strategy officer for Delaware Governor Jack Markell, and a former radio host, political aide, business executive, and consultant. “A critical question at any job needs to be: how am I adding unique value to my company or organization?”

“I was transformed as a mother, daughter, wife, friend, and entrepreneur,” says Caroline Miller CGS’06, who graduated with the first MAPP class. Miller is a performance coach and motivational speaker, and the author of Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide (an outgrowth of her capstone project).

For Kathryn Britton CGS’06, “The MAPP program was intellectually fulfilling and allowed me to reorient my life to be more aligned with my values.” Britton worked as a software programmer for IBM for 25 years. Currently, she runs her own coaching practice and teaches positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland, while contributing to numerous online positive-psychology publications—including Positive Psychology News Daily, a site about the latest research in the field that is currently approaching its one millionth page view, founded by classmate Senia Maymin CGS’06.

The insights of positive psychology can come in handy in some unlikely venues—the dentist’s chair, for instance. “I’ve learned to be better at motivating my patients to comply with the protocols of their treatments,” says South Carolina orthodontist Leslie Pitner G’94 CGS’07. “But I’ve also learned to be a better business person and leader to my staff.”

“MAPP was life changing,” concurs Elaine O’Brien CGS’08, a professional fitness/dance trainer and motivational speaker who is currently working with Seligman on the Positive Psychology Center’s positive health initiative, which focuses on the role of physical activity in promoting positive health. “The inter-class connections are so rich and the excellence of my fellow students was astonishing. I was inspired by so many others.”

 

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FEATURE: Degrees of Happiness by Kathryn Levy Feldman
Illustration by Daniel Fishel

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