Interview – Paul Pahil


Interview with Paul Pahil, Director of Positive Interventions at Hungry 4 Learning Kft.


What’s the secret of living positive and in the ‘flow’? Paul Pahil is totally living what he says and teaches! How can he do it, what’s his secret? How can we live really positive?

We talked with Paul Pahil, Director of Positive Interventions at Hungry 4 Learning Kft.

  1. Where are you from?

I was born in England to Indian parents from a Sikh heritage. When I was aged 12 I became in extremely interested in Karate. I consciously experienced ‘flow’ whilst doing Karate and further flow experiences allowed me to become Regional and British Karate Champion at the age of 14. At the age of 18 I moved to Brighton to study Sports Science to further develop my interest in psychology and factors that contribute to peak performance. At the age of 21, I started to study organisational psychology and began working in graduate and pilot selection for British Airways. It was an empowering environment to learn and that is where I became interested in team and leadership development. It allowed me to work with over 20 different nationalities at varying levels. I decided to resign from my role as head of training & development and study the science of ‘positive psychology’ for 12 months.

  1. When did you arrive to Hungary and what brought you here?

I arrived in summer of 2004 and decided to set up Hungry 4 Learning Kft. I wanted to introduce the scientific practices of ’positive psychology’ as founded by pioneering psychologists Martin Seligman and Mike Csíkszentmihályi in 2000.

I moved to Budapest because I realized there are many talented people in the city though there is strong environment of low resilience and high pessimism. Pessimistic people are eight times more likely to become depressed when bad events happen. Over time, depressed people learn to be helpless and exert little control in what happens in their lives. Hence I wanted to use positive psychology interventions to make people more resilient and flourish. There is a low level of flourishing in the whole region and only 8% of all Hungarians are actually flourishing. People who experience flourishing are more creative and productive. People who are flourishing enjoy better lives and can live up to nine years longer. When more people flourish, society gains through reduced mental illness, reduced suicidality, reduced premature mortality and better functioning. The focus of our work is on well-being which directly improves creativity, health, performance, customer satisfaction and supportive relationships.

  1. Have you ever been an expatriate elsewhere?

Budapest was the first city I lived as an expatriate.

Paul Pahil Csíkszentmihályi Mihály Toth Adorjan Business Management Hungary doing business in hungary tax and legal consultation business services

Paul Pahil with Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

  1. Have you arrived originally to be an ‘expatreneur’ or this was not your No. 1 priority?

I did not think about being an ‘expatreneur’. I wanted to do what I believed in and what I feel is meaningful for me. For me I wanted to do was what I loved and try to understand people without judging them in a new region of Europe. It was innate thing for me to do and learn more about myself in a completely new environment. I could sense people’s well-being was stopping them from being balanced and content and I wanted to add value to the people’s new futures. My priority was to engage individuals towards renewal, change and focused performance generating both vitality and excellence.

  1. As of business: what is your business field? Why did you choose this business?

The field of my passion and interest is the science of positive psychology. I believe that people have the right to an optimal life. We can become more resilient. I believe this is our birthright as a human being. You can bend without breaking and you can rebound back feeling stronger about your future. In 2005  I created a new framework of developing individual’s well-being called ’Optimal Leadership’ and ’Optimal Coaching’. Using the empirical findings of positive psychology with my experiences in sports and professional development.

Positive psychology advocates the shift to a more appreciative approach rather than a corrective approach which is detrimental to our well-being. The approach is more about eliciting strengths in order to build development around utilising strengths more often rather than fixing weaknesses. Strengths are potentials rather than traits. When it comes to the best way to leverage your ability, it’s best to go through your strengths. We can actually focus on increasing the challenge of situations to engage our strengths. When we use our strengths, we feel energised and alive. We experience flow, interest, immersion and high concentration.

  1. What was the most difficult to solve when you started your company in Hungary?

There was very little understanding and terminology in Hungarian about the science of ‘positive psychology’ and most people I met did not know about this science of well-being. The most important thing for me was to make people more aware and educate people about well-being and how they can grow their well-being as well as being balanced and successful in a sustainable and enjoyable manner.

  1. How did you find a solution?

Within 6 months I found a new office and selected a small team and started to teach them the science of positive psychology. Within 12 months we created our materials in Hungarian and started to deliver regular seminars and workshops in both Hungarian and English. I believe it is essential to educate people in their mother tongues too so I decided to create the first positive psychology website in 10 languages. ( I felt it was important for people to read about this science in their chosen language which is essentially about exercising choices so people can feel better about themselves. These experiences were enriching for me as I became even more interested in the Hungarian psyche and people’s perceptions and values about life and well-being. Consequently it allowed us to broaden our services into new countries and I have worked in more than 10 major cities in this diverse region. I believe it is important to connect, relate to people and work in a ‘non-linear’ design rather than to just educate them in a linear design. People need to become open, active and engaged in the overall process of growth and renewal. This is a basic need for human growth and our evolution depends on it!

  1. What are today’s challenges?

For me it is about shaping and creating new environments so we can make more informed choices and thus function better. We can only flourish and mobilize others when the conditions in the environment are optimal. The essence for me is to collaborate with others to create value for our new environments. This was the inspiration behind creating Budapest’s Happiness Week, which has run for 3 consecutive years, so everyone interested in developing their well-being could participate for free.

There are considerable unexploited resources for social renewal, and community commitments and joint action. The rate of people performing voluntary activities is very low, reaching about 4%. Value systems that emphasize individualism and material consumption are detrimental to well-being. Whereas those that promote social interaction and a sense of relatedness are profoundly positive.

Another challenge is to get people focus on the present and future and not focus on the past. Hence evolution is needed for people to people to grow and feel content and complete. Often in the change process, it is quite common for people to ‘give up’ and return to their negative mindsets. It is important for people to engage towards renewal, change and focused performance, generating both vitality and excellence. My approach adopts a respectful curiosity. It is important to focus on your preferred future and initiate a process that begins by attending to any moves towards it whether these are small increments or large changes.

Paul Pahil with Zsuzsanna Szvetelszky.

Paul Pahil with Zsuzsanna Szvetelszky.

  1. What surprised you the most about Hungary?

Through reading, I was impressed about the Hungarian heritage and culture. When I started living here I realized the culture and heritage made Budapest a great place to live and enjoy. Though I realized that that most people were still driven by the fear of failure rather than seeing failure is an opportunity for growth and development. Dealing with challenges can increase our self confidence and has a greater long term effect on our self esteem than focusing on winning or losing. The Hungarian psyche has been formed by centuries of foreign domination, internal turmoil and there have been too many national cataclysms for most Hungarians to be able to overcome their strong pessimism. Hence I oberved little confidence between the people and especially towards each other. I noticed most people were very individualistic and did not value teamwork and diversity enough to appreciate effort made by others.

Also I was extremely surprised how most leaders perceived and responded to diversity in their teams. Diversity is much more than dealing with gender and age inclusion. It is essentially about giving people more belief about what they can do and how they can grow. It is about responding to people’s new strengths and how they can leverage them to create resilient environments to anticipate customer’s needs and trends.

10. What is your favorite Hungarian food?

Töltött paprika and Paprikás csirke

  1. What about Hungarian wines? Do you have a favorite?

I enjoy experiencing various wines from Hungary. Currently I am savouring Sauska Villányi Cuvée 2011 & Konyari Kékfrankos 2009.

  1. What is your favorite Hungarian word?


  1. What do you miss most from home?

I missed my mum’s spicy Indian dishes and the jokes and banter with my family and friends. Also I missed being a part of a community and the many intangible benefits you have when you belong to diverse community.

  1. What’s your favourite thing about being an expat in Hungary?

Budapest is a wonderful city to live and I enjoy the humane aspects of life the most. For example spending quality time with my friends and developing relationships with people here in Budapest.

  1. What would you do different now than in the beginning regarding your business or career?

There are several things I could do differently in my career. For example when I came to Budapest I knew it would take time to create impact so I decided to work in Prague. Bucharest, Bratislava, Berlin, Warsaw, Vienna and other cities in the region. This allowed me to see the big picture without getting stuck in one environment. I am sure I could have worked in more cities in the region before I decided to choose to live in Budapest.

  1. What are your hobbies?

I still love practicing the art of Karate to keep alert and conscious. I enjoy spending time discovering new parts of Hungary and this region of Europe.

Paul Pahil with Professor Barbara Fredrickson.

Paul Pahil with Professor Barbara Fredrickson.

  1. Buda or Pest?

For me the river Danube is the essence of Budapest and how it integrates the city and connects people with their lives.

  1. What is your personal credo, motto or quote?

Life flows better with greater positivity. This was inspired by two professors who influenced my life, work practices and thinking. The research on creativity by Mike Csíkszentmihályi and the work on positive emotions by Barbara Fredrickson who is a professor in the department of psychology at the University of North Carolina where she is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology.

  1. Do you have or plan to start any Corporate Social Responsibilities activities?

We do have some plans in the pipeline and we are seeking suitable and progressive partners to find the most optimal solutions for our future environment.

  1. If you could go back in time to start your business in Hungary from the beginning, do you see the sense to work with a business management agency like Business Management Hungary?

When you start something from scratch in a new country you do really appreciate any support and help you receive. Every help is worth its weight in gold.


Did you like this interview with Paul Pahil? If so, you are welcomed to suggest us people to do interview with!


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