Campaign for the University of Melbourne board member John Higgins has put $2.3 million behind his belief in the effects of positive psychology: “The end result being a happier, more fulfilled life.”

“Psychology has traditionally supported people to move from minus ten to zero. What I love about positive psychology is it helps people move from zero to plus ten.”

A major gift of $2.3million from philanthropist John Higgins has strengthened the University of Melbourne’s research and teaching in the field of positive psychology.

Higgins’ gift will fund the creation of the Gerry Higgins Chair of Positive Psychology in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

It is the fourth academic post at the University created in honour of Mr Higgins’ father, Gerry Higgins – now in his 80s – who emigrated from Kiltimagh, Ireland, in 1949, and established Higgins Coatings, a successful commercial painting business in Melbourne.

This latest post has been created, says Mr Higgins, to fulfil his vision that “every student will be exposed to the principles of positive psychology through their time at school, which will give them the skill set to not only influence their own lives, but the lives of people around then. One day it will be as fundamental to education as the three Rs of education are today.”

Generosity_John_Higgins“I first became interested in positive psychology when I heard of (Professor) Martin Seligman of Pennsylvania University,” he says.

“After having read a number of his books, and been online for a number of assessments, I became intrigued by how easy it was to influence positively a person’s thinking – the end result being one could live a happier, more fulfilled life.”

According to the University, positive psychology has grown as a discipline more than any other field of psychology over the past two decades. It is focused on the study of what makes life worth living and its impact lies in the fact that researchers have been able to scientifically link the attributes of positive psychology – such as optimism, joy, courage, resilience and dignity – to wellbeing in terms of health, academic and career success, and well-functioning social groups.

Professor Lea Waters, who is currently Director of the Centre for Positive Psychology in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education has been appointed to the Chair post.

Professor Waters is a leading international researcher in the field of positive psychology, and a known expert in the areas of organisational change and psychology. She said she was excited to be taking on the role.

“The Centre for Positive Psychology is uniquely placed to have a positive impact across business, health and school practice in Australia and across the world,” she said. “A particular interest of our centre is the wide-scale application of teaching positive psychology to school students to support the wellbeing and learning of young Australians.”

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