Bright-Sided


Bright-Sided

A Naysayer's Guide to Positive Psychology

By Barbara Ehrenreich

March/April 2010


I approached my chance to interview Martin Seligman in May 2007 with some trepidation. Only three months earlier I had published an essay in Harper's critical of both positive psychology and pop positive thinking. Sure enough, when I first encountered Seligman he was practically scowling. "There he is!" the security guard at the reception desk in a boxlike building at the University of Pennsylvania said, pointing upward to a short, solid, bullet-headed man looking down from the second-floor balcony. I smiled and waved, to which Seligman responded only, "You'll have to take the elevator."

He was not, however, waiting for me on the second floor and had disappeared into his office. His secretary informed me that he would be busy for a minute and that he wanted me to meet these two ladies from the Australian military while I waited. After shaking their hands and learning that they had come for help in "preventing problems before they get to the complaint stage," I was ushered into his office, only to face another delay—a phone call from the BBC, he told me, which I was welcome to sit through, although no chair was offered.

The phone call—to schedule an interview about a plan to offer "optimism training" in the British public schools—seemed to lift his spirits, and after a few minutes of innocuous conversation, he announced that it was such a beautiful day that it would be a shame to spend it indoors. "I have a plan," he said. "We're going to go the art…

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