Positive Leadership

Paving the way to positivity (with Dr. Martin Seligman)

January 03, 2024 Jean-Philippe Courtois Season 8 Episode 2
Positive Leadership
Paving the way to positivity (with Dr. Martin Seligman)
Show Notes Transcript

25 years ago, at a time when the dominant focus in psychology was on mental illness, pathology, and dysfunction, Dr. Martin Seligman felt that psychology shouldn’t only be about fixing problems but about enabling individuals and communities to flourish.

He is widely regarded as the founding father of positive psychology, and someone whose work JP has drawn upon throughout his career to build his positive mindset and create environments where people can thrive.

Listen to their conversation now.

Subscribe now to JP's free monthly newsletter "Positive Leadership and You" on LinkedIn to transform your positive impact today: https://www.linkedin.com/newsletters/positive-leadership-you-6970390170017669121/

JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Hello and welcome to another episode of Positive Leadership, the podcast that helps you grow as an individual, as a leader, and ultimately as a global citizen. My guest today, Dr. Martin Seligman, is director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center and a man widely credited as the founding father of positive psychology. 25 years ago at the time when the dominant focus in psychology was on pathology and dysfunction, Martin felt that psychology should not only be about fixing problems, but should be about enabling individuals and communities to flourish, working not on relieving depression or relieving anxiety head on, but on building positive emotion as a buffer against mental illness.


MARTIN SELIGMAN: So for me, the job of the future manager is the following. We should say to them, you know, we hold you accountable for productivity, and we promote you on the basis of how you do with productivity. We've got a mental illness, mental health epidemic going on here. And it's your job to build the well-being of your team.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I’ve drawn on Martin’s work again and again throughout my career to build my positive mindset and to create environments that enable people to flourish. So I was really looking forward to this conversation, and I can honestly say it did not disappoint. Martin shared lots of practical advice on different tools and techniques you can use right now to address internal and systemic factors that impact an employee’s well-being, including ways we can successfully measure well-being and hold to our managers accountable for the well-being of the people in their team. We also dig into some specific communication techniques you can use to strengthen your relationships at home and at work. And, believe me, mastering the art of active constructive responding is a real game changer. And it turns out that Martin’s been embracing the power of AI. Stay with us until the end to find out how this new technology is proving useful for individuals seeking advice and for coaches and therapists. It is such an enormous pleasure and honor to have you, Martin, on the podcast. A warm welcome to you.


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Thanks for having me on, JP. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So, Martin, I'd like to start at the very beginning of your journey, if I may. I think you were born in 1942, in New York, and raised in a middle class Jewish family. Can you draw a picture of what you were like as a child and what were the greatest influences of you growing up? 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Well, I think up until age 12, I was a pretty bright eyed, bushy tailed child. And at age 12, my sister, who was in college, would bring home her books, and she brought home Freud one day for me. So I'm lying in the hammock. I'm 12 years old. I'm reading Freud’s introductory lectures, and he talks about teeth falling out dreams, and JP, do you remember what for Freud that meant? 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: No, what is it, Martin? 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: He said it was guilt over masturbation. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Wow, okay, that’s a good start. 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: And I thought how does he know me so well? This is what I want to do in life and have great insights into human beings. That was one influence. The other thing that happened at age 12, JP, is my father, who was 49 and a political person, had a series of strokes, and so I found myself in the position of not having a father, essentially, and having to raise myself. And the next major intellectual influence that happened to me was going off to college and doing science and studying Wittgenstein and physics and rigorous intellectual matters. And so the question I left college with was how can I combine the rigors of science with the insights that people like Freud had into human illness and human happiness? So it was between my sister, Freud, my father's stroke and Wittgenstein that the cauldron that I am today developed. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: No, it's amazing and really interesting as well as I read your book, Martin, to understand that you've been going back and forth and connecting the dots between science, Social Sciences, and philosophy as well. Now, you also were very, I would say, passionate about philosophy. So I’d like now to really understand what made you want to study psychology?


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Well, if we go back to my teenage years, you know, as sort of a short, non-athletic kid watching all my athletic and wealthy friends get the girls, I asked myself, hmm, what could I do? And it was talk to them about their problems. No one had ever done that before. And that was one way, and then the other, I think, was really the important one, and that was combining scientific curiosity with wanting to change the world for the better. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: And so in your biography, and this book, The Hope Circuit Secret, you shared an insightful moment, which I love, with your daughter, Nikki. And she told you, hey, dad, have you noticed that since my fifth birthday, I've not whined once? I decided I was going to stop whining, and that was the hardest thing I've ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch. So take us back to the moment, to that moment, if you can. And why did it have such a big impact, I guess, on you as a dad, but also as an academic researcher? 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Well, it's 1996 now, and I had just been elected president of the American Psychological Association, and presidents are supposed to have initiatives and themes, and I really didn't know what mine would be. And so it was at that epiphany in the garden with Nikki in which I shouted at her and told her to get to work weeding with me, and she called me a grouch and said that she was able to stop whining, and so if she could do that, I could stop being such a grouch. In that moment, JP, I learned three things. The first was that Nikki was exactly right. I was a grouch, and I was proud of it. So a grouch is someone who can see everything that's wrong and can criticize it. And, indeed, I was proud of doing that. But for the first time in my life, it occurred to me that perhaps any success I had in academia and in the world was not because of critical intelligence, but in spite of it. And so I resolved to look harder for what was right, rather than for what was wrong. That was the first thing. And I also resolved to become a happier person. And, indeed, I measure that kind of thing. And it worked. The second was that I realized that my theory of being a parent or a teacher was wrong. Essentially, it was remedial, and that, somehow, if I could find all the things that Nikki was doing wrong and correct them, I'd get an exemplary child. And it occurred to me that was nonsense. That, conversely, what I really needed to do was to find out what Nikki’s strengths were. I had just seen one, the ability to talk to an adult, reinforce it, and help her to lead her life around what she was good at, as opposed to correcting what she was bad at. And the third thing I realized was that my profession, psychology, was half baked. It was baked about suffering and misery, but there was no science and no practice of the opposite about wellbeing and happiness. And so I got my presidential theme, and I've spent most of the last almost 30 years since then working on wellbeing and happiness. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: That conversation with Nikki was a real breakthrough moment for Martin. He realized that psychology as a field practice was so intensely focused on misery and suffering, that he missed out on so much of what people want in life. Two years later in 1988, Martin gave a now famous presidential address to the American Psychological Association, the APA, in which he called for a shift in focus and resources to the study of positive psychology. That address titled Positive Psychology: An Introduction is often considered as a landmark moment in the establishment of positive psychology as a field of study. 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: About two years before I was president of APA, consumer reports enlisted me to do a study of therapy in the way they study automobiles and washing machines. And so I helped them launch a large survey. And to my surprise, coming out of academia, which had basically debunked a lot of therapy, we found that therapy was rated very highly. It was like a really good washing machine. And it occurred for me for the first time as an academic that maybe this would be a route to bringing better science to APA, since APA was mostly practitioners, and it needed a dose of science. And, indeed, I decided to run for president of APA. I hadn't been president of anything since the ninth grade, and I wasn't a very good ninth grade president, for that matter. But the incident with Nikki in the garden in which I realized that psychology had been monomaniacally about misery and suffering. Those people listening to me now, when you go to bed at night, you generally are not thinking about how to go from minus eight to minus five in life. You're asking how to go to plus four and plus six. And where was the science and practice of that? And so it seemed to me an enormous lacuna in psychological thinking that had somehow missed the good life, what makes life worth living, in its endeavor to remove the things that cripple life. So it became my passion and endeavor to get my fellow scientists and practitioners to work on the good life, what makes life worth living. And that was the inspiration. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Well, I'm so glad you had such an inspiration early on, Martin, so all of us can enjoy and, of course, learn more from you and many of your peers. You know recently, I had Professor Kim Cameron on the podcast, who in 2002, a few years after your speech, founded the Center of Positive Organizations based at the University of Michigan. It's a world class research center that has played a key part in establishing what was then a new field, management science. He told me that it took a while for people within the business community to grasp the importance of focusing on positive emotions, to understand it was not just about smiling your way through each day, regardless of how you were feeling, to recognize the value in being able to view events in a way that's constructive and positive. So my question is, did you find it hard to pressure people early on, on the importance of focusing on positive emotions, but also to get them to understand that authentic happiness comes from identifying and nurturing one’s signature strengths and using them to achieve a state of flow? How hard was it to convince the early doctors how positive psychology in different audiences, right, businesspeople, could be academia, could be citizen?


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Well, I was surprised about who didn't like positive psychology and who did like it, and it would have been very hard for me to predict. So in the first place, I found that many of my clinical psychologists who had grown up pathologizing the world and trying to un-pathologize it resisted the notion that humans could do any better than not being miserable. Indeed, the Freudian tradition was the best you could ever do in life, is to hold your suffering to near zero. So interestingly, my fellow psychotherapists met it with skepticism. We started working in schools, and it began to catch on there. So what we did was we took middle school kids at about age 10 to 12, and we began to teach them the techniques of positive psychology and resilience, and then we followed them through puberty, and we found that we could half the rate of depression and anxiety by preventive learning about positive psychology. So it took an education. And the place where it really took, JP, was a great surprise to me. This is in the middle of the Iraq Afghanistan War. I got called to the Pentagon by the chief of staff of the army, George Casey. And to a meeting of the general staff, and General Casey said, positive psychology, we've got depression, suicide, panic, divorce, drug abuse, PTSD. What does positive psychology teach us about that? And I said, sir. I went to military school, JP, so I knew enough to say, sir. You just described what solders go through when they face severe combat, but the reaction of soldiers and humans generally to bad events is bell shaped. You've described the left hand side of the bell, the people who fall apart. But what you have to remember, sir, is that in the middle, you've got resilience. Now, resilience is have a hard time after combat, but three months later, you're back where you were both physically and psychologically. But often overlooked is the right hand side of the curve. And these are people who do very badly in combat, who really suffer from it, often show PTSD symptoms, but a year later are stronger physically and psychologically than they were to begin with. So my recommendation is that we move the United States army to resilience, to posttraumatic growth. And indeed, at that point, General Casey did something which I'll remember for the rest of my life. He said, my legacy, Dr. Seligman, to the United States army will be to create an army that is psychologically as strong as it is physically, and I'm allocating a $140 million to it, and your job will be to teach the army positive psychology and resilience. And I said, well, how can I do that? He said, we've got 40,000 teachers in the army. I said, really? Yeah, the drill sergeants. So your job will be to teach the 40,000 drill sergeants positive psychology, and they will teach the 1.1 million solders. And that was the big uptake for positive psychology in the world. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: That's huge, Martin. And if I may, we'll come back to that a bit later in some of the details, cause I love as well the practicality, the exercise. We'll come back to that later. Hang on, for listeners, but I also love you to talk a little bit about business circles. Have you also dealt with business people, you know, and the way they've been approaching, again, positive psychology? 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Yes. The major uptake in the last 10 years has been big corporations. And let me give you my background, JP, about this. So I've been teaching large groups of people happiness, well-being, and resilience. And when I talk to CEOs about this, they would often say to me, well, that's nice, but my job is profit. Is happiness profitable? And, indeed, I knew the literature on this. There are about 100 studies in which you measure the happiness of workers, and you measure their productivity. And maybe the more happy workers are, the more productivity. But something really major has happened in the last couple of years that solidifies this and makes it convincing for me. So the first thing was our studies in the United States army. And so, and by the way, JP, here, unlike most psychological work, I'm not talking about samples. I have everyone in the army. So this is a study of 900,000 soldiers. On day one, when they sign up, it's a regulation that they take a test that I was part of the designing, and it asks about psychological wellbeing, ill-being and the like, and then we follow 900,000 solders after day one for five years. And there are two big awards that the army gives for this. The first is exemplary work. It's metal. 12% of the army earns it in five years and heroism. So we asked the question could we predict from day one who's going to do exemplary work? And by the way, the army has 150 different jobs. This is not just infantry. We found we could robustly predict it. Three things on day one predicted exemplary work over the next five years. The first was high positive emotion on day one, the second was high optimism on day one, and the third was low negative emotion, not being a complainer. So that was the first thing that we learned that pointed us in the direction of the importance of well-being for working well. But the most important study came out this May, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve from Oxford, George Ward from Harvard, took 1100 American companies. At time one, they asked four questions of the workers, how happy you are at work, one to five, how satisfied are you with your job, how much purpose does your work have, and how stressed are you? Low stressed. And then they measured a time on the stock price of the company and the profitability of the company. And then they came back one year later, and they found that happiness, those four questions, robustly predicted stock market price and profitability. So now when CEOs ask me and I advocate more well-being for workers, and they say, well, is that profitable? I can say yes and massively so. So it turns out that HR has a different job than I thought. So I basically regarded HR as being handholding and making people feel better, but it is now clearly a major lever of profitability. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: That's right. And you think businesspeople get convinced about that, Martin, that they actually are doing something about it? It's not just nice words. You see some of them taking actions. 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Yes. And we finally have evidence that, from my scientific standards, is convincing. So I think one of the great drivers of well-being in the world for the future will be is it turns out to be profitable. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yeah, simple equation. And I believe in it, by the way, me too, in a huge way, and it's virtual and virtual circle of people, satisfaction, wellness, custom, driving customer satisfaction, by the way, which is so critical, driving loyalty and driving profit for the company. And I think I've seen that, I mean, again and again in different places, different companies, and it's real. 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: So my message to CEOs now is, one, hire happy people, and, two, for the rest of your workforce, do coaching for well-being.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: There’s no doubt that happiness increases productivity. And the effects are large. In fact, a recent study published in management science finds that each one unit increase in happiness on a scale of zero to 10 led to a 12% increase in productivity, where productivity was measured by the number of sales employees made. Yet the word happiness itself is so fuzzy, and it’s really not very helpful. Martin believes that there are five different pillars of human happiness: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement, the PERMA model, which he described in his influential 2011 book Flourish. 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: The reason that positive psychology doesn't stop at P and say that's all you should work on is how people feel, is that how we feel, subjective well-being, is highly heritable. And what that means is that 50% of the world right now really is not feeling very good. So what else is there to human happiness? Well, the second thing is E, and that for me is engagement. When does time stop for you? When do you feel completely at home? And so the second pillar of positive psychology is how to measure and how to build engagement with the people you love, in your hobbies, and most importantly at work. The third thing that is the pillar of human happiness is R, relationships. We're hive creatures. And indeed, I'm often asked if you're depressed right now, what's the one thing you can do? And here's my advice generally for that. You should shut off this podcast, go outside, find someone who needs help and help them. It turns out our hedonic system is wired to generosity and to help. So building relationships and studying them is the third pillar of positive psychology. The fourth pillar is M, and I used to call that meaning, belonging to and serving something bigger than you are. And indeed measuring that and asking how to build it has been a main endeavor in positive psychology. And so, for example, when in the workplace, when people see their work as meaningful, they're more productive and retention is better. And the last is A, and that's achievement, mastery, accomplishment. So the way we measure human happiness is with a dashboard. P, how you're feeling right now, E, how engaged are you, R, how good are your relationships, M, how much meaning do you have in life, and A how is your accomplishment going.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: That's a very, very strong foundation, Martin, and the M for meaning can connect a lot with the purpose, the purpose-led as well, you know, organizations and the purpose of people. Now we are in 2023. If you're to start that framework over again, would you actually just keep it as it is, those five letters and those five key components, or would you do something a bit different? Would you change? Would you add, would you amend? Would you come up with a new acronym today, Martin? 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: M has changed for me. So when we ask people about meaning, you know, how meaningful is our conversation today, JP, people see that as kind of pointy headed and hard to answer. But there's another question which we now do in companies and around the world. It's a different M, it's mattering. To what extent do you make a difference to your family, to your corporation, to the planet. And if you vanished right now, what would the consequences be? People are much better at answering mattering questions than meaning questions. And very important for managers. There are things you can do to increase the amount of mattering that people feel on a team, for example, but it's very difficult to change the amount of meaning they have. So the one change I'd make is M migrating to mattering from meaning. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Mattering. No, I love the way you've been defining mattering, actually, Martin, both starting with the family, continue with the organizations you work for, business, I mean, could be society and eventually the planet, humanity as well, which I think is—we’ll come back to that as well, which is the third kind of circle of the impact we can have on the world. Now, you talked, you know, about this amazing story of the work you do with the army, which is really mind blowing because when I was reading that also in your book, think about the—I mean, the one million people scale of the programs. I love it maybe, if you don't mind, coming back on some very specific elements. You talk about the questionnaire, than you talk about the way you measure prediction, again, of resiliency and more. What have been some of the key techniques you've been—if you were to pick, I know there's, I'm sure, a lot in the handbook and the training materials, but if you were to pick a couple of the most important principles for the managers, I would say, okay, lieutenants, whatever, generals of the army, different levels of management. But let's take first level of management in the army. What would be the top two, three, key, key, key coaching advice you would give them?


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Well, the first oddly enough, comes out of marital therapy and massively important in the workplace and in the army. Now, marital therapy traditionally studies how people fight. And, indeed, in marital therapy, what you're trying to do is to make them fight more constructively. That is, you're trying to change insufferable marriages into barely tolerable marriages. Well, that's not positive psychology. Positive psychology is about the question of how to create good relationships, not less bad relationships. Now, about 15 years ago in the field of positive marriage counseling, people asked the question, not how do you fight, but how do you celebrate together. Now, I want you to imagine your spouse comes home with a victory, some really good thing. What do you say to her? 




MARTIN SELIGMAN: Congratulations. Wonderful. And that doesn't do anything. Let me tell you about that. So consider a two by two table in which active, passive, constructive, destructive are the first two dimensions. So Mandy, my wife, is an amateur black and white photographer. A few years ago she came downstairs and said, Marty, the editor of Black and White, just called me. I've won first prize in black and white. So what do I say to Mandy when she says that? Well, what you and I both would have done, JP, is said, congratulations, dear, you deserve it. That's passive constructive. It has no effect on a relationship. It's wallpaper. Now, my 40,000 drill sergeants would have done active destructive. Man, do you know what tax bracket that award is going to put us into? That’s a destructive of relationships. And there's a passive destructive, which is what's for dinner? The only thing that works, and very important to learn it, is active constructive. So in active constructive, when someone in your workplace, your spouse, a friend, comes to you with a victory, you want to put them in touch with it. And here's what I said to Mandy, and it's only because I've learned this from reading the marital therapy literature. The first thing I had to do was to show Mandy that I knew what she was talking about. And I said, Mandy, was it the black and white picture of the swan that you took at Blenheim that won first prize? And she said, yeah. And then I said, that is the best black and white picture of a bird I've ever seen. Now, my job—and, by the way, this takes a lot longer than congratulations, dear, you deserve it. Mandy, where were you when the editor called you? So she told me. Now verbatim, what did he say? So Mandy relived the experience. Now, what do you think it is, Mandy, about your photography that enabled you to beat all these Pulitzer Prize winning photo journalists, the professionals? She said, well, I'm very good with gray and nuances of gray. And then I said, well, how can you use that to teach the children photography and painting better? And then, Mandy, that bottle of Don Perignon that's been sitting for 10 years in the refrigerator, let's open it up and celebrate. Now, empirically, when you learn active constructive responding, love and commitment go up, sex gets better and divorce goes down. So the first technique that's very important in the workplace is not remedial about what's going wrong, but rather celebrating appropriately and putting people in touch with their strengths and their victories. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Good communication is an important part of all relationships. And research shows that active constructive responding can help turn a good relationship into an excellent one. Active constructive responding makes the speaker feel valued, validated, and heard. It boosts positive emotions in both the listener and speaker by generating an upward spiral of positivity, what Barbara Fredrickson calls the broaden and build phenomenon. So it’s worth taking the time to consider your own style of responding. Are you actively engaged or passively listening? Constructive or destructive in tone? Be mindful about expressing support and validation. Be mindful about expressing support and validation and don’t forget about your body language. Nod and smile and lean in to show interest. You know, I had a number of episodes, Marty, where we are talking about feedback being as a gift, as an example with Melody Upson, which is a different type of actually of dialogue where you are receiving a feedback that is going to help you to grow, actually, and sometimes it's tough feedback. But the way it’s delivered is super important. On the other hand, as you said, you need to do a proper celebration of people, and it can’t just be, congrats, my friend. And, you know, the tap on the shoulder. It doesn't make it. Or great job, it doesn't make it. So I think what you said resonates so well with me in terms being so specific about the moment, the lived experience of the person, making her reflect on actually what is the wonderful power she had in her to get that done, and so that you can build that and go higher, actually. Wonderful. Love it. Now, I’d like to discuss, Marty, something you already mentioned in our dialogue, the growing endemic issue of our society and workplace, mental health. I think it's a big deal, everywhere I go. Mental health disorders are among the most burdensome health concerns in the US. Nearly one in five US adults aged 18 or older reported any mental illness since 2022. In addition, 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress, such as headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious. And according to recent report from the Center for Disease Prevention, only 57% of employees report moderate depression, and 40% of those who report severe depression actually receive treatment to control their symptoms. And the last number, I know, enough numbers, but it's actually an incredible number. Only 3% of leaders and managers talk about mental health. So if you were, Marty, today, I think you’d do a fantastic job, the CEO of an organization, either a small business with 50 people or, let's say, on the other extreme, the CEO of a super large organization with a 100,000 people, how would you drive the cultural change in that company, so that every manager, every individual feels ready, first of all, to discuss openly mental health issues and, obviously, as a result, help to build a workplace with high satisfaction and real lived experience of well-being? What that would look like? 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Good. Now I have something very different to say about this from most psychologists. Let me tell you where I'm coming from about this, JP. I wrote five editions of Abnormal Psychology, a best-selling textbook, over the course of 25 years, and every five years I would rewrite it, incorporating what was new in therapy and drugs for mental illness. 




MARTIN SELIGMAN: Well, we reached a 60% barrier, and that is essentially over the last 25 years, nothing changed. And the 60% barrier, roughly, to summarize an enormous literature was psychotherapy and medication, for example, for depression, worked about 60% of the time against a 40% placebo rate. Not very good. In fact, I wrote a Guide Michelin to psychotherapy and drugs in which I gave psychotherapy and drugs about 1.5 stars. Not very good. So given essentially a fairly anemic world of medication and psychotherapy for depression and anxiety, what should we do in the workplace? And this was one of my reasons for founding positive psychology, working not on relieving depression or relieving anxiety head on, but on building PERMA, building positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment buffers against the mental illnesses. And it works. There are good outcome studies of it. So here's my main advice to managers of small and large companies. It is important—it's not your job to treat mental illness, and, in fact, we don't do it very well, even when you turn it to professionals. But we do know how, as managers, as human beings and as psychologists, to build well-being. The very first thing to do is to measure. So at time one, there are very simple free measures of PERMA. And you could ask the question for your entire workforce, what is their level of PERMA? Then I think it's important for management to say, we value the well-being of workers, we value PERMA. And part of the job of management is to measurably increase it. And there are lots of techniques for doing that. It's highly coachable. Managers can be turned into coaches and, by the way, that enriches the jobs of managers. And then it's important to reward and promote those managers who measurably increase PERMA. And I want to say that's not just important humanly. If you're a CEO that only cares about profit, the evidence is now quite compelling that increasing PERMA increases profitability. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: We are used to the idea of key performance indicators in measurements about productivity performance. Financials of course need it. Applying them to the PERMA framework is a great idea and something that I believe has a lot of value. And I love the fact Martin does coaching as something critical to being a good manager. I’m a huge believer in being a coach-like manager, where you prioritize helping people grow, as opposed to micromanaging them. So I can see that we converge a lot on our beliefs. Now, I’d like to go back to, in a way, the M, or more than the M, actually, maybe relate to discussion purpose. I think a clear purpose has become a critical success factor for people, and even organization, actually. As you know, there’s a number. In my home country in France, we have what we call enterprise à mission, mission-led enterprise. It's actually a legal status. It is. So it's not just marketing, it’s real, where you go and define your raison d'etre, and then there's a committee that actually correlates the work you do to drive that raison d'etre into impact, and so on and so forth. So I think this is something we've been talking a lot in my podcast. In one of the episode, I spoke to Akhtar Badshah, who is an expert on social impact and the author of a book called Purpose Mindset. And he made a great point that as a leader, your role is not to manage, but to synchronize your people's purpose, which I loved. I think it was wonderful to hear that, synchronization of the people purpose. So I think your view that when it comes to leadership, questions of purpose and meaning are harder to come up with, and that mattering is a better substitute, again, coming back to your PERMA and the evolution of the M to mattering. So could you, again, maybe elaborate a little bit more, about why mattering is so important today, as people and organization are looking for purpose in life or in accomplishing of their work and mission as organizations. 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Yeah, so I think it's crucial for high management to make the mission of the company clear. And at the mid-level, it's very important for mid-level managers to instill meaning, mattering, and purpose in the people they work with. And, importantly, mattering is well measurable. And one important difference between mattering and purpose is that purpose can be entirely selfish, but meaning and mattering have to do with relationships with larger things, the family, the company, and the world. So the sense of purpose that I believe is important for management is belonging to and serving something that people believe is bigger than they are and being in a mattering relationship with it. So that if you vanished, the team, the company, your family would be greatly impoverished. So it's very important to build mattering and meaning into work. So one of the things that people who work on mattering do is create mattering maps. In many ways, this is the opposite of a 360. What you’re doing here is asking people in a team to what extent does this person matter? What do they do? So creating mattering maps from the individuals in a team to what they do and what more they can do to matter is one quite doable technique.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Now, I like to shift to the new AI era, Martin, because you and I discussed that before this call, and I was so excited by some of the new discovery you've made yourself, because I know you love experimenting with technology. I understand—I know you've been using ChatGPT and equivalent models even from China. So I’d love us really to understand the way you've seen AI that is being used by I think one of your students being actually helping you, and first of all, you know, helping you actually in terms of your job, what you do and maybe being more productive, but also being actual still very much Martin responding to the questions, and the way it's been helping you and others now to build what you call your personal story or personal narratives. So would you mind talking about those two things? First of all, explaining our audience what is this personal narrative all about and why it's so critical to be able to build your own life story as part of your identity. And then we can go and get into the conversational AI and what does MartinGPT looks like? 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Like many of us, I've been working full time for the last eight months on AI and positive psychology. It's the most revolutionary development in psychology in my lifetime. So there are three things I want to tell you about JP. And the first is about narrative identity. Now as a therapist and a coach, what I do in the first month is I try to get to know my client. I try to find out what their life story is. And if I'm good at it, I get some place, but it's difficult. So the first thing we did with Chat 4.0 was to teach it the notion of narrative identity, what is a person's life story. So we had to go back and forth until we were sure that Chat understood what an identity he was. Now, here is the very surprising part. We then asked 26 people to give us 50 random thoughts over the next 48 hours, like, I'm hungry. These chocolate chip cookies aren't any good. My students are failing. And then we went to Chat, and we said, here are 50 random thoughts from a person, and here are their demographics: religion, age, education. What’s their narrative identity? Oomph. What we got was astonishing. It gives you a 750 word life story from this meager information, and 25 of the 26 people said it was totally accurate or mostly accurate, and the majority said they learned something new and were surprised. So the first thing that we can do with coaching and therapy is to greatly short circuit the first month by using AI to assist with narrative identity. The second thing, JP, that we did, what you do in the second month as a therapist or a coach is you plan out treatment. That is you ask what interventions might be useful here. So we asked AI give us—here's the narrative identity you gave us, give us a treatment plan. And, again, did just as well as I would have done, if not better. So we short circuited the second month. So the bottom line of the first two findings, JP, is that we can make coaching and therapy, even at the managerial level, by the way, much more accurate and efficient and time saving, so that you can actually get to work on implementing the interventions. But it was the third thing that knocked my socks off. When 4.0 came out, one of my former PhDs, who's a staff member at Shinwa in China, wrote me and said, Marty, we've got lots of anxiety and depression in China, but we have a shortage of coaches and psychotherapists. So we've created a virtual Seligman. I said, What? Yeah, we fed it your books, your speeches. It's called Ask Martin, by the way, it’s free, and try it out. So I went to Ask Martin, and I found in my voice simulated in English and in Mandarin, you could ask it a question, and I'll just give you an enigmatic thing. Every day I get several emails, people around the world asking me for advice. So a few weeks ago some—one young person said, Professor Seligman, I need three pieces of advice. So I answered number one, I answered number two, and then I said, maybe I'll take number three, which was in a shitty world like this, with all these terrible things going on, how can I remain happy and optimistic. Good question. So I went to Ask Martin, and it gave me its answer, and I typed it out. The next morning I get from her, dear professor Seligman. Thank you so much for your advice, particularly your third piece of advice, which I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It turns out the content that Ask Martin gives, it's a better therapist than I am. It's a better coach than I am, and it should be enormously useful for individuals seeking advice and for coaches and psychotherapists. So where we are six or eight months after 4.0 is we have a machine that gives accurate narrative identity, that does treatment planning, and most importantly, does better therapy than I do. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: That's pretty mind blowing, Martin. It's pretty blowing. And you basically are saying that you see the day almost there where we can use our AI system, a co-pilot as a therapist, so as a coach, right? But what will be your guidance to moderate or regulate with, you know, with, say, some policymakers, such agents, if they start hallucinating, getting out of control, to make sure they play the right role when it comes to our mental well-being? Any advice? 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: My job as a scientist, as a therapist, as a leader has been, ever since my presidency of APA was to find out what was right, not what could go wrong. So my first and consuming reaction to AI is look at all the good things that this can do. Now, there are a lot of doomsayers out there who are better than I am and can see all the awful things that might happen, and I'll leave it to them to warn us about them. Right now, my job in many ways is to ask the question, what's the very best help that AI can give us? 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: That's a great question. And I love that, genius work. And I think it's wonderful to hear the way we can harness the potential of AI for, again, the greatness of humanity and society, Martin. I'm so much in agreement with you. I’d like now to finish, almost finishing, by exploring with you, Martin, the third circle of positive leadership. You know, we discussed quite a bit the first one, about me, the second one, me and others, relationships and the way we engage and many pieces of the PERMA framework. But I’d love to talk about the third one, me and the world. And you talk a little bit about this one. I’d love to expand. You know, at a time where humanity is confronted with some huge environmental, social, human rights issues, is there an opportunity for each one of us to drive positivity in the world? And if that's the case, do you consider altruism, philanthropy or the opportunity for all of us to do—to serve others with no expectation of return as a path to build our on positive mindset? In other words, does it matter to get out in the world and have a positive impact?


MARTIN SELIGMAN: I'm often asked by students for career advice, what should I do, and I think what I believe about that and what I tell them is the best answer I can give to your question, JP. So what I say is, first, find out what you're good at, find out what you're a natural at, second, ask what the world most needs. Find a career that matches what you're best at with what the world most needs. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I think it's a great simple formula, very much aligned with the EQI, indeed, of the way you can connect your strengths, your passion, what you could be paid for as well with what the world needs the most, actually. So I love it, Martin. Now, imagine yourself as a young Martin again, as a freshman at university. What is it and what would be your calling today, Martin?


MARTIN SELIGMAN: This is the first time in my life at age 81 that I've wished I was 21 again. I know exactly what I would be doing. Neither of these things existed when I was 21. I would be working at the intersection of positive psychology, human happiness, and AI. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Well, you're already starting to do that, as you share with us. So that's wonderful that you are igniting this new field, and let me just finish with the very last question now obviously. I mean, I want to circle back, of course, to the story with Nikki. Have you been really able to graduate, Martin, from a grouch, obviously, to a positive and happy dad, author, husband, and human being? And if yes, can you leave us with your wisdom? And if you could summarize it with three—your three core beliefs in life, what would that be? 


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Well, first, I'm no longer a grouch. Three things happened in my lifetime. Personally, I went from being an anxious, depressed kid, to being an older adult with high PERMA, largely because of positive psychology. Secondly, the world got better. The world, by every material statistic I know, except for the rates of anxiety and depression, has gotten much better in the last 80 years. And third, my field, psychology, changed from being about misery, suffering and conflict to being about happiness, love and meaning. So that's been the three things that happened in my life which make me not a grouch. Now, the question of wisdom is a much more difficult one. And the three things, JP, that I think I can best pass on is, first, what I said about young people. Find the career that best matches what you're really good at with what the world needs. The second is to corporations and managers. And that is, for the first time, we now know that high well-being produces better productivity. So part of the job of the manager of the future is to produce high well-being in the people that we work for. And the third is to the planet. And that is—it's oddly political. It's neither left nor right, by the way. So left right, as I understand it, is the question of given the ends that a society has, who should do it? The left wants government to do it, the right wants individuals to do it. But my view is that it's the ends that are at issue, that nations, corporations, are not about higher GDP. They're not about more military conquest. They're not about innovation. What they are about is high human well-being, and that economics, military, innovation is all in the service of human well-being. So for me, good government changes the end to being about well-being, not the means. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Such an inspiring, delightful and deep conversation there with Martin. And it’s fascinating, the point he makes there about how well-being should be the goal of good government. So I would argue that wherever there’s a fixed budget constraint, money should be allocated to these policies which give the greatest increase in well-being per euro or dollar or expenditure. As leaders, you need to see it as your job to build the well-being of your team, and we need to hold people accountable and promote them accordingly. Using Martin’s PERMA model as a framework to help embed we—being in your objectives and key results is a great way to help you establish metrics and to help you stay on track. And I’d like to say thanks a ton for the amazing contribution you had not just on me, but I know on millions of people to see the positive side of the world and drive it and live it in our lives. So huge thank you, Martin, for everything you do. And, again, I wish you the very best in your field intersecting with AI now, cause I'm going to check this virtual Martin AI Co-Pilot very soon. Thank you, Martin.


MARTIN SELIGMAN: Thank you for having me here, JP. I very much enjoyed our conversation.


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: You’ve been listening to Positive Leadership with me, Jean-Philippe Courtois. If you enjoyed this episode, why not leave us a comment and rating and share it with your friends? If you’d like more tips on driving personal growth, leadership excellence and positive change, head over to my LinkedIn page and subscribe to my monthly newsletter Positive Leadership and You. See you in the next episode. Goodbye.