Nurturing what is best

A famous Psychologist (Martin Seligman) describes an experience he had with his daughter, Nikki. Maybe you have had one of these experiences too?

‘The moment took place in my garden while I was weeding with my five-year-old daughter, Nikki. I have to confess that even though I write books about children, I’m really not all that good with children. I am goal oriented and time urgent, and when I’m weeding in the garden, I’m actually trying to get the weeding done. Nikki, however, was throwing weeds into the air, singing, and dancing around. I yelled at her. She walked away, then came back and said:’

“Daddy, I want to talk to you.”

“Yes, Nikki?”

“Daddy, do you remember before my fifth birthday?

From the time I was three to the time I was five, I was a whiner. I whined every day. When I turned five, I decided not to whine anymore. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch.” (Martin Seligman, 2000).

This experience caused Martin Seligman to reflect:

‘Nikki hit the nail right on the head. I was a grouch. I had spent 50 years mostly enduring wet weather in my soul, and the past 10 years being a nimbus cloud in a household full of sunshine. Any good fortune I had was probably not due to my grumpiness, but in spite of it. In that moment, I resolved to change.’


As the then (1998) President of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman realized he had become a grump, and turned his research interests towards what human attributes contribute to happiness. Below is a very brief summary of what he discovered.

In brackets after each research finding, is the name of the researcher/s who contributed to the discovered understandings (e.g. Seligman = researcher, 2000 = the year of the research).

  • There is a close association between religious faith and happiness (David Myers, 2000).
  • Recognised strengths act as ‘buffers’ (protection) against mental illness include: courage, future mindedness, optimism, interpersonal skill, faith, work ethic, hope, honesty, perseverance, and the capacity for ‘flow’ (i.e. working in a place where your strengths enable you to do your best work). (Seligman, 2000)
  • People high in optimism tend to have better moods, to be more persevering and successful, and experience better physical health (Christopher Peterson, 2000).
  • Patients with life-threatening diseases who remain optimistic show symptoms later and survive longer that patients who confront reality more objectively. In addition, building optimism helps prevent depression (Seligman, Schulman, DeRubeis, and Hollon, 1999).
  • When the need for competence (achievement), belonging (connectedness), and autonomy (self-determination) are satisfied, personal wellbeing is optimised (Richard Ryan, Edward Deci, 2000).

A take-away from the above research is that certain behaviours (e.g. having a faith and being honest) are directly associated with experiencing increased personal happiness.

Having been a Senior Lecturer in a University, I’m very familiar with the needs of Academics for material evidence (facts), as a credible way of supporting knowledge and understandings.

As Christians, working in a Christian School, we are both attentive to contemporary research, and in faith, drawn to the Bible’s wisdom. The above research has emerged within the field of Positive Psychology during the last 18 years. The Bible draws upon wisdom and truth that spans more than 2000 years.

God’s Word speaks of perfect love. For our community, love is at the heart of all that we do. Said in another way, real excellence is God’s love in action.

Not negating research that contributes to happiness (children and adults), we are drawn to the Bible for guidance on what to ideally focus on, as a means of nurturing what is best.

In God we trust.

Des Mitchel