Prof. Martin Seligman, Founder of Positive Psychology, started the session by stating that policy is often focused on alleviating suffering rather than developing happiness, which requires two completely different skill sets. As such, he centered the session discussing studies which consider happiness from a psychological perspective, how to measure, increase, and practices it sustainably on an individual and national level.
During the session he emphasized happiness being an achievable persona, national and global goal as a means of drafting good policy. However, he acknowledged that developing ways to accurately measure and effectively increase happiness is fairly recent. One example is using social media to measure happiness, such as categorizing tweets by specific words used to indicate emotions. He then used this experiment to illustrate five factors composing happiness, which are: pleasant emotions, engagement with flow of reality, supportive relationships, meaning and purpose to life, and accomplishment. Seligman showed how this method takes a cheap and unbiased approach to measure happiness within a given community, and is a statistically more reliable method to predict mortality from some physical ailments than other factors such as smoking. This was a crucial point to him is because it emphasizes how happiness has long-term health benefits. With that, he segues into individual practices that can be implemented to increase happiness in the short run, which are positively reinforcing, such as writing down a list of good things throughout the day and why before sleeping. Next, he outlines experiments proving the importance of happiness, via a study that shows students of teachers trained in “positive education” perform better on standardized tests than students in curricula from the control group. For Prof. Seligman, it is importance of focusing on children’s’ strengths and fostering them rather than correcting their errors.
Finally, Prof. Seligman focused on Dubai’s status as a leading city in the world for developing happiness, with its establishment of Ministries of Youth, Future, Tolerance and Happiness. After he highlighted the importance of each Ministry and the innovation of the Ministry of Happiness, he concluded by restating the importance of focusing on how to measure happiness and increase it in order to draft good policy.