Positive Psychology Conference – UEL

The times they are a-changin’

Yesterday many of my co-students and I attended the first Positive Psychology: Well-Being and Business” Conference hosted by the University of East London – where we are almost half-way through our Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (the first programme of its kind outside of the US). The lecture theatre was full, mostly HR managers and leaders from public, private and NFP sectors, as well as a large sprinkling of independent coaches, psychologists and consultants, all keen to hear what Positive Psychology has to offer organisations.

The father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, gave the keynote address; here was the opportunity we had all been waiting for. No Positive Psychologist worth their salt would willingly pass up the chance to hear the man in person. He referred to the three pillars of positive emotion, engagement and meaning which you will be familiar with from his Authentic Happiness book, then oh so casually mentioned the possibility of “a 4th or even a 5th pillar” although he presented no new research in support of this theory. Turns out many prominent Positive Psychologists, among them Caroline Adams Miller and UEL’s own Dr Ilona Boniwell, have long been in favour of including positive relations and positive achievement in the definition of happiness, but are too polite to say ‘I told you so’.

You’ll remember from this posting a few days ago that I hoped Seligman would clarify his revelation at the Washington Global Well-Being Conference that Positive Psychology should henceforth be known as “Positive Social Science”. Well, unfortunately he didn’t elaborate. In our MAPP-only seminar, however, he said ‘everything I told you this morning is wrong’.


These might just be word games, of course, but I suspect there is more to it than that. I got the sense that there is a lot of discussion and thinking going on about the possible emergence of a new field of science, which of course would have serious implications for the future of Positive Psychology.

It has been suggested that Positive Psychology is the new paradigm. With the emergence of Positive Social Science, however, I think we’re already moving on.

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