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Positive psychology: charm and a box of brownies essential


Many of us will remember what we were doing when the once-in-a-lifetime London 2012 Olympics took place. For positive psychologist, Hilda Barratt, it was the time she changed her life.

“My career has been working as a human resources director,” said Hilda.  “My real passion always was how individuals and teams could flourish and thrive. 

“So, I studied everything I could find, but I’d never actually studied psychology, because it seemed to focus on when people were in difficulty or maybe unwell.  Then one day, by sheer chance, I came across a prospectus for the University of East London and it said I could do a master’s in positive psychology. Well, I’d never heard of such a thing.”

UEL was the second university in the world to create such a master’s programme but getting on the course wasn’t plain sailing for Hilda.

“It was love at first sight, I was hooked. It was August, I rang the university, this is me, I’ll come and start next month,” she recalled. “But an admissions’ officer told me that actually the course was full and the interviews for the waiting list on Thursday was full too. But, it didn’t deter me, because I decided this is what I wanted. So, I got dressed and ready on Thursday, for the interview I didn’t have, and I travelled two hours to UEL.”

Somehow Hilda managed to charm her way through security and she tracked down the admissions’ officer with whom she had spoken. 

“Could I be on stand-by?”, she asked. “You know, just sit quietly in the room in the corner for the day, and if anyone doesn’t show up for their interview, I’d be the stand-by candidate.” 

Once again, the gods had conspired to prevent Hilda’s wishes. As the officer explained, it was the Olympics and the University was conducting interviews over the phone. Hilda was undeterred.


It was love at first sight. I am taking what I learnt and applying that in the corporate world. I am eternally grateful to UEL.

“Well, now you know how keen I am, because it took me two hours to travel here, and I’ve made some great brownies,” she explained. 

With that, Hilda gave a box of home-made brownies to the officer and left. That same afternoon, after the officer had pleaded Hilda’s case, she was interviewed, and the rest is history.  

Today Hilda uses her learning to help hi-tech sector firms, such as Apple, Microsoft and Electronic Arts, as well as higher education institutions, to think about inspiring their workforce by focussing on their colleagues’ strengths, what they can do rather than what they can’t, instead of their weaknesses. And Hilda acknowledges her flourishing career is down to that day she took a risk and would not accept ‘no’ for an answer.

“We had people that were flying in from all over Europe to do the course on a part time basis, and we had other people who had relocated from Japan and America to do the programme.
We had a core team lecturing us, and they also brought in quite a range of external people, who were working in the field using positive psychology. It’s transformed the work that I do. I am taking what I learnt and applying that in the corporate world. I am eternally grateful that UEL allowed me to charm my way in to an interview I didn’t have.”