A couple of years ago, I spotted something a bit special in an Oxfam bookshop; it was a kind of archaeological relic of a by-gone age. The book was a basic psychology text called ‘Abnormality’. Because I have no more than a passing interest in the subject and ever-diminishing shelf space, I elected to leave it behind.
However, this book marks the end of an era.
A New Field in Psychology
Abnormality was published in 1997. The following year, its principal author, Martin Seligman, was President of the American Psychological Association. In 1998, Seligman officially launched Positive Psychology as a distinct branch of psychology, and lifted it from the level of pop psychology to a topic of serious scientific research.
Abnormality marked Seligman’s last book on the ‘old’ psychology of the damage we accumulate or do to one-another. All his subsequent books have been about aspects of optimal human functioning.
Why this timing? Was it just because Seligman had the opportunity that year? I don’t think so. In his 2003 book, Authentic Happiness, he says:
‘it took Barbara Frederickson … to convince my head that positive emotion has a profound purpose far beyond the delightful way it makes us feel.’
In 1998, Barbara Frederickson published a ground-breaking paper: ‘What good are Positive Emotions?’ In it, she suggests that positive emotions broaden and build our personal resources and help us to cope with the trials of life. She won psychology’s most lucrative award, The Templeton Prize, in its first year, 2000.
But what if I’m stuck with negative emotions?
Seligman himself is a leading thinker in Positive Psychology; most closely associated with two aspects: strengths, and ‘Learned Optimism’.
His 1990 book (now in its third edition); ‘Learned Optimism’ pre-dates Positive Psychology as a field of study with a name, but it is an essential read for anyone interested in the field.
It shows how we can move from helplessness to optimism by changing the way we think, and it presents a very powerful model, developed by Albert Ellis.
Albert Ellis and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
Albert Ellis founded Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) – yes British readers: I have used the US spelling. This is a fore-runner of the better known CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and Ellis is known as the Grandfather of CBT. He died in 2007.
In Learned Optimism, Seligman uses his ABCDE model as a tool for changing the way we think about adversity and and challenge. You will also find this model in The Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (CBC) Pocketbook.
A B C D E
A: Activating event
… or Adversity, as Seligman describes it, is the objective event that causes us concern
The beliefs we have (rational or not) about the event that trigger our attitudes, fears and subsequent behaviours
Ultimately, what consequences do those beliefs have for us in terms of what we do and how that changes our options and opportunities.
Change comes when we confront our beliefs with real-world evidence and start to dispute our interpretation and beliefs.
This is the word Seligman uses, which seems more powerful than ‘Exchange’ used in the CBC Pocketbook. Here the new evidence and understanding we have exchanged for the old energises us to make changes, think differently, do things differently, and change our world.
Our Cognitive Behavioural Coaching Pocketbook has a whole chapter on the ABCDE model and how to use it.
Is Happiness as Simple as ABC?
Of course not, but what Seligman shows us is how a simple process can radically change our perspective from pessimism to optimism.
Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy
You might also like our earlier blog: Socrates’ Questions, Pavlov’s Dogs and Skinner’s Box.