It was back in June when I first heard that Martin Seligman was being considered as Adelaide’s next Thinker in Residence. It was during a meeting with the head of the Scotch College Positive Psychology program, as we lamented the limited opportunities we have in Adelaide to hear from international experts in the field, that I was told Dr Seligman’s appointment was imminent.
It takes a lot to surprise me, and it takes something pretty significant to impress me. And I don’t mind admitting that I was gobsmacked! Martin Seligman – here in Adelaide – really??.This would surely be the most important and significant person ever to land in the city of churches. So I did some digging, found it was indeed a strong possibility, and waited for the wheels of politics to turn. Then last Wednesday the public announcement was made, albeit a some-what subdued announcement considering Dr Seligman’s reputation and contribution.
The aim of Dr Seligman’s residency in South Australia is to explore how we can build flourishing communities. This includes how we measure wellbeing (a key target in SA’s Strategic Plan) and what we need to do to develop our skills so we can flourish.
Taking young people as the focal point, this residency will look at the key touch points – school, family, social services and peers – and how positive psychology, in the form of tools for well – in young people’s lives being and resilience, can be built into those interactions. The focus on young people also allows the residency to provide those tools to the broader community by working with teachers and families as well as young people.
Dr Seligman sees schools as an influential and necessary space for building these skills for youth, family and peers. He believes that, where possible, well-being should be taught on three grounds: as an antidote to depression, a vehicle for increasing life satisfaction and as an aid to better learning and more creative thinking.
‘The future calls us to measure and then make policy around well-being rather than just around money. This measurement will be part of our gift to our prosperity.’ Dr Martin Seligman, Flourish (2011)
I may be stretching my optimism to suggest that Dr Seligman will agree to address the Happiness and Positive Psychology Professional Development interest group that I convene. I am however, hopeful that his presence in Adelaide will be a significant catalyst for the development of positive psychology as a profession and academic discipline, as well as for community well-being more broadly in South Australia.