Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology

Martin Seligman is the founder of positive psychology, a field of study that examines healthy states, such as happiness, strength of character and optimism.

Martin Seligman founded the field of positive psychology in 2000, and has devoted his career since then to furthering the study of positive emotion, positive character traits, and positive institutions. It’s a fascinating field of study that had few empirical, scientific measures — traditional clinical psychology focusing more on the repair of unhappy states than the propagation and nurturing of happy ones. In his pioneering work, Seligman directs the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, developing clinical tools and training the next generation of positive psychologists.

His earlier work focused on perhaps the opposite state: learned helplessness, in which a person feels he or she is powerless to change a situation that is, in fact, changeable. Seligman is an often-cited authority in this field as well — in fact, his is the 13th most likely name to pop up in a general psych textbook. He was the leading consultant on a Consumer Reports study on long-term psychotherapy, and has developed several common pre-employment tests, including the Seligman Attributional Style Questionnaire (SASQ).



World Mental Health Day

The World is celebrating Mental Health Day today. The situation of Mental Health in Nepal has improved at least little bit due to the efforts of NGOs, mental health activists and the media. However, the government still remains unconcerned about this crucial issue. Talking about mental health financing by the government, less than one percent of health care expenditures are directed towards mental health. The department of health receives mental health data from the hospitals and primary health care centres but the data is taken under the broad heading of “mental disorders’. In other words, all mental disorders are included in one large category.

Nepal’s national mental health policy was formulated in 1997 but it has not been yet passed into legislation. Key components of the policy include:

(1) to ensure the availability and accessibility of minimum mental health services for all the population of Nepal;

(2) to prepare human resources in the area of mental health;

(3) to protect the fundamental human rights of the mentally ill; and

(4) to improve awareness about mental health.

The policy needs to be properly revised and redrafted again with necessary additions before it is passed and implemented. There is enough time for that preparation because it is certain that it will at least take few more years for the policy to be passed.

Is Mental Health = Mental Illness??

Definitely, No! But this kind of misconception is widespread not only in Nepal but around the world.  For example: if you go to the site of National Institute of Mental Health and read their slogan (Transforming the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through research), you will get similar message that mental health is equivalent to mental illness and its treatment. I remember  Martin Seligman writing in one of his articles that it should be renamed as National Institute of Mental Illness. Such misconception needs to be corrected through general awareness about mental health that it encompasses the state beyond the mere absence of diseases.

People have misconceptions even about psychology in Nepal, they think it is all about mental disorders and  treatment. That’s why this year in a program organized in my university, I gave a presentation on Positive Mental Health which focuses upon the positive aspects of mental health, positive emotions, experiences and what the research findings say. The term “Positive Mental Health” was first coined by Marie Jahoda (1958) in her book “Current Concepts of Positive Mental Health (Basic Books Inc.)”. She writes in the opening paragraph of her book:

“There is hardly a term in current psychological thought as vague, elusive, and ambiguous as the term “mental health.” That it means many things to many people is bad enough. That many people use it without even attempting to specify the idiosyncratic meaning the term has for them makes the situation worse, both for those who wish to promote mental health and for those who wish to introduce concern with mental health into systematic psychological theory and research.”

This is true indeed. Mental health term usage and understanding is so varied among people. People mostly talk about problems and treatment or prevention. There is little space for those who wish to promote mental health. It is the same in case of Nepal. I think if we focus equally upon promotion of mental health, half of the problems are reduced or never occur. The research in positive psychology is helping us to understand how it could be promoted and what kind of interventions work. Therefore, I recommend there is a need of more doing research on psychological well-being and positive mental health.There is also a  need of developing locally appropriate interventions for increasing psychological well-being for people in Nepal as it culturally differs from Western countries.

It is important to remember that our mind can feel unwell like our body does. Like the physical problems, psychological problems are also treatable. Psychology has achieved immense success in the area of curing mental illness. 14 of the disorders are treatable and 2 of them are curable. This is a good news for us. People are often nervous when it comes to psychological problems, see the psychiatrist is the worst thing they can imagine because it means being crazy and being abnormal in the eyes of others. Well, it is normal to have the ups & downs inside our mind. Please, don’t hesitate to seek for professional help when it is necessary. See: