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Angela Duckworth selected as a 2013 MacArthur Fellow

The MacArthur Fellowship Program announced Wednesday that Angela Duckworth has been selected as a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, positioning her among the ranks of the country’s most elite and innovative scholars.

Duckworth, an associate professor of psychology in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, is among only 24 individuals in 2013 to receive one of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s annual “genius grants.”

The prestigious MacArthur Fellowship is awarded to individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement, and manifest promise for important future advances.

As a MacArthur Fellow, Duckworth will receive a five-year, $625,000 grant designed to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their creative activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements.

Duckworth’s work focuses on studying competencies other than general intelligence that predict academic and professional achievement. She is perhaps best known for her work surrounding the concepts of self-control and grit, and how those personality traits are better indicators of success than factors such as IQ or family income. Her research populations have included West Point cadets, National Spelling Bee finalists, novice teachers, salespeople, and students.

See details in this Penn Connect article and the MacArthur Foundation Angela Duckworth page.

The Seligman Times Volume 1, Number 2

Post-Election Optimism

There were only glum faces around our Thanksgiving table this year. Hillary Clinton supporters all, my kids and their mates saw nothing to be thankful for. The specter of Donald Trump ascending to the most powerful position in the world cast a pall over the day and my kids—ranging in age from thirteen to twenty-seven—said with one voice that they had nothing to be optimistic about.

But I disagreed and I said so.

You likely feel the same way as my children, so let me start with a quiz:

Is the world getting better or worse?
Better Worse Not Changing Don’t Know

In the last thirty years has world poverty
Halved Doubled Not Changed Don’t Know


The Seligman Times

The Seligman Times
By Martin Seligman

When I started in 2002, I intended it to publicize my book, Authentic Happiness. I also wanted to let you take the tests--at no cost--that are the basis of the book and of Positive Psychology.

I was surprised by how popular this website became: Almost four and a half million people have registered here and taken the tests as of today. About two thousand new people register every day and this usage has been steady for years.

I was just as surprised by how popular Positive Psychology became, both in academia and with the public. There are now courses in most universities around the world and hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants and contracts. There are at least twenty national associations, the foremost being IPPA, Thousands of practitioners and scientists now call themselves “Positive Psychologists.” I number myself among them.

I find myself at the center of all these cross-currents. New articles, new books, new discoveries, new websites, new popular press, and fascinating new people and their projects, come my way almost daily. There are even whole new fields--Positive Education, Positive Neuroscience, Positive Health, Positive Humanities, Positive Theology, Prospective Psychology, and Positive Psychiatry.

So the time has come to expand and liven up this website by writing about the news in Positive Psychology and its allied fields. I call this section The Seligman Times, because I intend—at least at the outset—to write about the stuff that I personally fancy.



TANG Foundation awards its inaugural Achievements in Psychology to Dr. Martin Seligman

The TANG Foundation recently awarded its first-ever prize for Achievements in Psychology to Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center and Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Psychology. 


A marker of the high honor being bestowed, the award comes with a cash prize of $100,000 (CAD).  Dr. Seligman, who founded the field of positive psychology while President of the American Psychological Association, was presented with the award on Nov. 12th in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  The prize was created by Dr. Fay Tang of the TANG Foundation and adjudicated by the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychology. 

In a recent interview, Dr. Tang said that “mental health and psychological well being are just as important as physical health,” and it is the endeavor of the Tang Foundation and its eponymous prize to raise awareness on the importance of psychological health in the world.  She further underscored that many people in the world don’t understand the importance of investing in mental health and well-being, and that psychological and physiological health are inextricably intertwined. 

As such, there was perfect alignment with Dr. Seligman’s goals for his own work in creating flourishing societies, making him an obvious choice to be the winner of the first Tang Prize.  In a beautifully ornate wooden-paneled room adorned with large windowpanes overlooking the University of Toronto campus, Dr. Fang presented the award to Dr. Seligman before a packed room, an audience of around 100 people, which included academics, students and Dr. Seligman’s family and friends.

Upon accepting the award, Dr. Seligman graciously noted, “It’s within the endeavor [to increase well-being worldwide] that I think the Tang Foundation today has given a great boost to the field.” When later asked how he felt receiving the award, Dr. Seligman said “I am very grateful to be the first recipient of this award. More importantly, it recognizes and helps legitimize the entire positive psychology endeavor.”

Dr. Seligman described his time as an early researcher focusing his efforts on psychological suffering such as depression, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, suicide, and the like. In further studying Learned Helplessness, which is the feeling that nothing you do in the present or future matters, he noticed that nearly one third of people could not be made to feel helpless; instead they continued to bounce back from adversity and prevail over obstacles against all odds. While he saw this as a precursor to the study of optimism, studying happiness was erstwhile perceived as self-indulgent and hedonistic. An early study about the transient happiness of lottery winners further augmented the belief that seriously studying happiness was not worthwhile. This notion, however, was wrong.

Twenty-five years later, Seligman became President of the American Psychological Association. He spent a great deal of time contemplating the future of Psychology alongside some of the field’s most brilliant minds in a house formerly owned by iconic rock band The Grateful Dead (note the parallelism of the rockstars of Psychology converging in a space formerly owned by rockstars of music) during a retreat to Mexico to discuss, brainstorm, and ideate what would then become the field of Positive Psychology.  Dr. Seligman recalls talking “for about a week about founding a field whose premise would be well-being, whose premise would be about asking the question, ‘what makes life worth living?’”

A few months later, in his Presidential Address to the APA he made a call for researchers to focus on the factors that promote well-being rather than just concentrating on correcting the damages of psychopathology. He called for a field that would complement rather than replace traditional psychology, insisting that studying strengths is just as important as studying weaknesses. By focusing on what makes life worth living instead of what is wrong with us, we can nurture our talents and improve life, Dr. Seligman noted.

Once he refocused his own scholarly work toward positive psychology, Seligman quickly received grant funding from the Jon Templeton Foundation and an anonymous donor. The lack of funding for the study of well-being changed entirely. Over the years, he believes there has been between 100 and 200 million dollars in funding across the field of positive psychology.

Since its inception, the field of positive psychology has grown rapidly. Seligman has written more than 250 scholarly publications and over 20 books, including his two most well-known publications, Authentic Happiness and Flourish.  His achievements have led to the founding of the field of positive psychology alongside a model of wellbeing, which encompasses the scientific study of positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievements - PERMA for short. With the expansion of the field other topics of interest have emerged, such as the study of positive character traits, positive institutions, and positive education.

The field of positive psychology has long relied on individuals filling out questionnaires about their own happiness, and Dr. Seligman sees the future of the field in Big Data. He cited a recent study that mined Twitter and Facebook posts for more than 45,000 words related to well-being. The word clouds created in the study were used to predict heart disease within communities.

In his own future work, Dr. Seligman intends to focus his time and energy on Prospection, the idea that we are driven by possible futures rather than a static past. He believes we can use statements about the future to predict future outcomes. Additionally, those in the field need to connect these ideas to originality, creativity and innovation.

By 2051, 51 percent of the adults in the world could have high well-being if the “father of positive psychology” has his way. “This is the moon shot goal of positive psychology,” Dr. Seligman asserted during his speech in Toronto. While it may seem like a moon shot goal, Dr. Seligman makes this claim with such unwavering confidence that human flourishing at such a large scale seems like it is well within our reach.


Interview with Dr. Fay Tang

Editor-in-Chief Pax Tandon sat down to talk to Dr. Fay Tang, President and Founder of the Tang Foundation and creator of the first-ever TANG Prize for Achievements in Psychology, on November 21, 2014.

Notoriously private, Dr. Fay Tang has rarely engaged with the media.  So when she agreed to open her heart, her legacy, her struggles and her triumphs to me in a recent interview, I knew I was in for a treat.  The interview’s premise was to discuss the big win for Dr. Seligman and Positive Psychology that was receiving the first-ever Tang Prize for Achievements in Psychology, and maybe glean a quote or two from it.  What it ended up being was so much more; a rich tapestry of history, legacy, passion, challenge and triumph.

Dr. Tang greeted me with warm enthusiasm when she answered the telephone. She wasn’t surrounded by the familiar ambient sounds indicative of living in a cell phone era (car horns, airplanes, coffee chop tunes and chatter).  She doesn’t actually own a cell phone, nor does she engage with e-mail (that has made correspondence dependent on actually catching her at home, relics of a time before having someone at your beck-and-cell-phone-call was the norm).  She answered from her home telephone, a good old-fashioned landline with blinking-red answering machine attached.  And all the silence surrounding her as she answered the phone gave me a clear picture of the woman on the other end: a force of austere commitment to service, no frills, minimalist, with a long legacy of charitable giving.  3 generations long to be exact.  She comes from a lineage of charitable giving and community building, a process that began in Southern China and continued in Hong Kong when the family was forced out of their homeland with the installation of Chairman Mao.  Dr. Tang learned early on that if you had the opportunity to help someone, you just did, without expecting anything in return.  We can see this legacy taking shape in her inaugural offering of The Tang Prize, an award worth $100,000.  The Tang Foundation awards the prize to an Internationally renowned scholar whose “record of achievement has left an indelible mark on the field.”  A tall order from a woman of stature.  And the prize this year went to our very own Dr. Martin Seligman for his pioneering work in the field of Positive Psychology.

Why create such a prize? Very simply, because there wasn’t one.  It was in November of 1989 that Dr. Tang ruminated that the gold standard in awards, the Nobel Prize, recognizes excellence in Economics, Physics, even Chemistry, but there is no such prize for Psychology.  This did not sit well with Fay Tang, and as I began to see early on in our conversation, when this willful woman sets her mind to something, it gets done.  This began as early as grade 9 for her, when she realized she wanted to become a Psychologist.  Her mother was adamant about her becoming a medical doctor, but young Fay was repulsed by the idea of exposure to dangerous human afflictions she could potentially contract.  And then she read a book penned by a Chinese author about a mental hospital in Paris called “The Sad Songs of the Mentally Ill” and she realized two things: she wanted to effect positive change on peoples’ psychological experiences, and, she could be a doctor and help her patients simply by talking to them.  Exposure to blood and guts not required.  She excitedly reported the news to her mother, and young Fay was on her way to attaining a Psychological Doctorate and helping the world begin to place as much importance on mental health as physical health, two inseparable pieces of the flourishing equation in her purview. 

Her educational quest took her to Taiwan, where she received her BSE in Psychology from the National Taiwan University, then on to Canada where she received her Masters (MA) and terminal PhD degree (in Psychology) from The University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada. 

As a practicing Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Fay Tang now spends much of her time treating patients with a heavy dose of traditional therapy mixed with relaxation-inducing exercises like hypnosis.  They love it so much they ask for her to “relax” them at the start of sessions.  She does this for a generally very reduced rate, if not for free. The same genetic legacy of giving for the sake of giving, without expectation of a return on the investment.

The other portion of her time is devoted to The Tang Award.  To say it was extremely challenging to bring to fruition is an understatement.  In fact, the process has taken the better part of 3 decades.  Years of searching and researching, mountains of legal work, forming a selection committee (in Dr. Tang’s estimation, by far the most challenging part of the process-“Nobel already has these, I am only one Fay Tang!”), and finally landing on the perfect alliance with the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto, whose “support and enthusiasm” under Dr. Susanne Ferber, Chair of the Psychology Department “got the ball rolling so fast” that from May, when Dr. Tang approached the University for an alliance, until now, the awardee was selected and the prize awarded.  In an elegant ceremony, which took place in a wood-paneled room with tall glass windows overlooking the University of Toronto campus, Dr. Seligman received the award in front of a full house, including his lovely wife and daughters.  The date was November 12th, also Dr. Fay Tang’s birthday, the perfect gift for a woman whose vision and passion led directly to the award’s inception.

So what kind of precedent has this inaugural Tang Award set? Timing-wise, the award is to be presented every 3 years.  An almost Olympic-style turnover.  After a careful look at the numbers with her lawyer, this precise woman who describes herself as “thrifty” and very cautious with expenditure decided that the interest collected on chary investments of her own capital would all go to the awardee while keeping foundational capital intact –this will ensure the longevity of the award and support its fruition for years to come.  3 years is the established time it will take to turn over this amount of interest on the investments of personal capital she has spent years amassing.  $100,000 is a number she knows is high enough to attract international attention, and honor her awardees’ efforts commensurately.

As for Fay Tang the person, her erstwhile legacy of silence will perhaps be broken now if she pays heed to advice given to her in a lengthy and enlightening tete-a-tete with her own awardee Marty Seligman when they met in Toronto for the award presentation.  For the sake of Positive Psychology, mental health, and the propagation of the Tang Award, he has encouraged her to engage more actively with public relations and media outlets.  Though I hope this doesn’t diminish the privacy that she holds so dear, I consider myself lucky to be one of the first to hear her story and privileged to be able to share it. 

Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Good Business starts with the premise that this is an age in which business and work have replaced religion and politics as central forces in contemporary life. The book reveals how business leaders, managers, and even employees can find their "flow" and contribute not only to their own happiness, but also to a just and evolving society. It identifies the factors crucial to the operation of a good business: trust, the commitment to fostering the personal growth of employees, and the dedication to creating a product that helps mankind. Good Business is sure to become a must-read text for anyone who values the positive contributions of individuals in the changing world of business.

Resource Category: 

Angela Duckworth, Ph.D.