One of the key features of Martin Seligman’ brilliant work in Positive Psychology centres around the questions of how and why, when something bad happens it causes, some people to be desolated and other people to flourish. He sought to explore what exactly it was in the response of those who flourished, that caused them to flourish. Seligman wondered about the possibility that anyone could learn from those who flourish, and practice what is learnt to enhance their resilience and quality of life.
There is a refreshing logic to this. It echoes back to the ancient philosopher, Epictetus. He thought that it was not our problems that were our problem. He insisted that our problem was in how we thought about, and responded to, our problems. I found the best evidence for this in the writings of Victor Frankl who emerged from a Nazi concentration camp at the end of Word War 2 as something much more than a survivor. (I first read Frankl’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning” in my final year of high school and I continue to find it insightful, profound, enlightening and encouraging).
How we respond matters. It shapes us. In turn, we shape our future.
It has been refreshing to see the generosity of spirit emerge is so many people in recent weeks. There have been other responses that disappoint and embarrass but the responses of compassion, thoughtfulness and looking out for others – especially the vulnerable, matter most.
What I have learnt from my Formation work is that Seligman’s intuition was correct. Everyone can respond to adversity and flourish. For some it comes naturally. For most of us it requires intentionality and effort. We begin by making a choice.