Learning About Learning by Ben Dean, Ph.D.

Series Introduction - See Vol 2 Number 12

This week’s featured strength is love of learning.


I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma. ~ Eartha Kitt

Defining Love of Learning

People who possess the character strength love of learning are motivated to acquire new skills or knowledge or to build on existing skills or knowledge. They feel good when they are learning new things, even though they may occasionally become frustrated when the material is challenging.

This strength exists as a continuum. It is hard to think of someone who does not love learning in at least one domain, be it history, fashion, bike mechanics, sports trivia, etc. Indeed, some researchers speculate that an across-the-board absence of this strength may be indicative of pathology (Peterson and Seligman, 2004; Travers, 1978).

Although a love of learning appears to be universally valued, the way this strength is manifested and the conditions that foster it may vary across cultures. For example, psychologist Jin Li noted that the Chinese have a concept that roughly translates to “heart and mind for wanting to learn.” Whereas students in Western cultures may experience shame or guilt as the result of failing to achieve, the Chinese model of learning suggests that shame or guilt results from failing to want to learn.


Benefits of Having a Love of Learning

Research suggests that individuals who have love of learning as a developed strength are likely to do the following[i]:

  • Have positive feelings about learning new things
  • Have the ability to self-regulate efforts to persevere, despite challenge and frustration
  • Feel autonomous
  • Feel challenged
  • Have a sense of possibility
  • Be resourceful
  • Feel supported by others in their efforts to learn

The benefits of loving to learn during the school years are obvious: Students who love to learn are more like to engage in their schoolwork and receive positive feedback from teachers and parents. But the benefits of this strength extend far beyond graduation through the working years and into retirement. Indeed, a love of learning may be particularly valuable during older age in that it may prevent cognitive decline. Research suggests that individuals who are able to develop and maintain interests later in life are likely to be more physically and mentally healthy than their less-engaged peers (Krapp & Lewalter, 2001; Renninger & Shumar, 2002; Snowdon, 2001).


Nourishing a Love of Learning

Parents and teachers understand how challenging it can be to spark a love of learning that was previously undeveloped. Recall the charismatic but controversial teacher played by Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poets Society. His successful strategy for inspiring an interest in learning poetry was to tell his class of prep school boys that poetry was a powerful tool for wooing women!

Although the Robin Williams strategy is largely humorous (and not recommended!), there is a lesson here. Research (ii) suggests that individuals are more likely to take ownership for their learning when the following conditions occur:

1) They are given a compelling, meaningful reason to do the task (e.g., to woo women).

2) They have options to make the task more interesting (e.g., sneaking out in the middle of the night to recite poetry in an abandoned cave).

3) Social networks exist to support the learning (e.g., the Dead Poets Society) so that individuals fulfill social needs as they connect with one another through a topic or project of interest.


Developing a Love of Learning

The following activities for building a love of learning are based on a list composed by psychologist Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia:

  • Take a class just for fun (cooking, yoga, auto mechanics, astronomy, etc.)
  • Go to an online search engine like Ask Jeeves, ask a question, and explore sites you never otherwise would have discovered.
  • Every day, read a chapter of a book just for fun.
  • Decide to become an expert in a specialized topic and begin collecting (and reading) books on the subject.
  • Every weekend, discover a new area of your neighborhood, town, or city.
  • Subscribe to a newspaper or a periodical of special interest.
  • Join an internet discussion group devoted to a topic that you think might be interesting. (For a list of Yahoo discussion groups, visit http://groups.yahoo.com)


I hope you enjoyed this newsletter! See you in two weeks when we discuss the character strength Perspective.


Recommended Readings

Covington, M. V. (1999). Caring about learning: The nature and nurturing of subject matter appreciation. Educational Psychologist, 34, 127-136.

Fried, R. L. (2001). The passionate learner: How teachers and parents can help children reclaim the joy of discovery. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Peterson, C. and Seligman, M. E. P. (Eds.). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press

Sansone, C., Weir, C., Harpster, L., & Morgan, C. (1992). Once a boring task always a boring task? Interest as a self-regulatory mechanism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 379-390.


The Fall 2004 Authentic Happiness Coaching Program launches Thursday, October 28, 2004, with orientation on Thursday, October 21, 2004. Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. will again direct this program and once again we will have extraordinary guest lectures by such luminaries in positive psychology as Chris Peterson, Barbara Fredrickson, Barry Schwartz, George Vaillant, Karen Reivich and others. Some openings in the Fall 2004 program remain, but space is limited and will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. For detailed program information and to enroll, please visit our home on the web at <http://www.authentichappinesscoaching.com/>.


Information Teleconference With Dr. Seligman On Thursday, September 9th

You are invited to attend an informational teleconference call with Dr. Seligman. This interactive meeting will be held by telephone on Thursday, September 9th at 8:00 p.m. (New York time). The information call is your opportunity to ask Dr. Seligman any questions you may have regarding the Authentic Happiness Coaching Program that will begin on October 28th.

If you are able to attend, please register at our website, <http://www.authentichappinesscoaching.com/>.

You will receive a confirmation via E-mail containing the telephone number to call and further instructions. Normal long distance charges [$3-$5 for this 60-minute call] will apply.

AHC Program Resources

1. To experience the first Authentic Happiness Coaching Program Master Class with Marty, call 1-212-461-2698. (Call anytime, day or night. Only normal long distance charges apply.)

2. To hear Marty talk about his life and the Authentic Happiness Coaching Program, call 1-212-461-2688. (Call anytime, day or night. Only normal long distance charges apply.)

3. To hear Marty's Keynote at the 2003 Psychotherapy Networker Symposium culminating in a standing ovation, call 1-212-990-7245. (Call anytime, day or night. Only normal long distance charges apply.)

4. To hear what our participants are saying about the Authentic Happiness Coaching Program, call 1-212-461-8615. (Call anytime, date or night. Only normal long distance charges apply.)

5. To read what our participants are saying about the Authentic Happiness Coaching Program, click on <http://www.authentichappinesscoaching.com/pages/

6. Questions? If you have questions about the Authentic Happiness Coaching Program, please E-mail us at <mailto:questions@authentichappinesscoaching.com> or call us at 1-301-664-6756 (call anytime, day or night.)


Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., is the Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, the founder of the field of Positive Psychology, a Past President of the American Psychological Association (1998), and the author of 20 books including his most recent best seller, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. With Chris Peterson, he is co-author of the newly-released Character Strengths and Virtues: A Classification and Handbook. He is also the co-founder of Authentic Happiness Coaching LLC.

Ben Dean, Ph.D., co-founder of Authentic Happiness Coaching LLC, is a psychologist and coach, and the CEO of MentorCoach, a virtual university that exclusively trains mental health professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. For MentorCoach's home on the web and to subscribe to Ben's free E-newsletter, the MentorCoach™ eNewsletter, visit <http://www.mentorcoach.com/>.


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© 2004 Authentic Happiness Coaching. All rights reserved.


[i] List compiled by Peterson and Seligman (2004, p. 169)

[ii] Sansone & Morgan, 1992; Sansone & Smith, 2000; Sansone et al., 1992

"Learning about Learning" - Vol 2 Number 16

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