Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment Paperback – 6 Mar 2003
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At last, psychology gets serious about glee, fun and happiness. Martin Seligman has given us a gift - a practical map for the perennial quest for a flourishing life. (Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence)
Seligman takes the best, most recent science in psychology and applies it to our oldest, most basic human questions: How can we be happy? And how can we be good? His book is groundbreaking, heart-lifting, and most important, deeply useful. With pun intended, I'm optimistic about its success. (Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia)
A highly insightful and personal reflection on the nature of happiness, from one of the most creative and ifluential psychologists of our time. (Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct)
An amazing book! Absolutely full of practical wisdom and its authentic sources. What depth of understanding! Seligman affirms our power of choice with a perspective on old and new psychology I found compelling and fascinating. This book will help restore the Character Ethic. (Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
An impressive achievement. This book will change how people view psychology and how all of us view ourselves. (Howard Gardner, Harvard University, author of Multiple Intelligences)
Martin Seligman is on a mission: to take the rich and suprising findings of a young field called Positive Psychology and use them to imporve the mental, moral and spiritual well-being of his readers. Being Positive Psychology's founder, as well as a vivid, inspiring writer, he is uniquely qualified for this job. Only one person could have written Authentic Happiness, but millions could benefit from it. (Robert Wright, author of The Moral Animal)
In this important, entertaining book, one of the world's most celebrated psychologists, Martin Seligman, asserts that happiness can be learned and cultivated, and that everyone has the power to inject real joy into their lives.See all Product description
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Seligman states clearly that he is not trying to offer advice that will resolve any current mental illness but rather provide options and avenues for increasing current levels of happiness. In doing so, he argues that the past is for naught and that early trauma of any kind should not prevent one from increasing one's present amount and type of happiness. Yet the past is not so easily dismissed, especially when childhood trauma remains heavily imprinted on one's consciousness. So, in this respect, I find Seligman's basic premise to be fragile in the extreme and his subsequent arguments wide open to challenge.
Finally, a major omission is Seligman's choice not to address the negativity imposed on us by others or by our environment. This omission is especially evident in his discussion of married love. This chapter offers little new beyond classic psychology. It was even quite galling to read the simplistic assertion that married life is happier while ever one can maintain the illusion of one's partner's virtues....Yes, of course, but what about the case of long-marrieds who know each other inside out and whose illusions faded long ago? To me this chapter was a cop out, nothing more or less.
Interested readers may also benefit from visiting the website that accompanies the book, in order to participate in the numerous surveys there. In my opinion, the website is worth more than the book itself, in terms of providing useful insights into the foundations of happiness and methods for increasing one's own personal quota.
Until recently psychology has mainly been working within a disease model: a strong emphasis has been placed on discovering deficits in human behavior and finding ways to repair this damage. Psychologist hardly focused on in doing studies acquiring knowledge about healthy functioning and building strengths. In other words: they have focused solely on taking away something negative (the disfunctioning) instead of adding something positive (increasing mental and behavioral health). The result: psychologist know little about healthy and happy functioning. This situation has been changing now since the rise of positive psychology a few years ago. What is Positive Psychology? It is a new movement in psychology, originated by Martin Seligman and a few other prominent psychologists among whom Mihali Csikszentmihalyi (author of FLOW). It aims to be a psychological science about the best things in life. Main topics of study are: positive emotions, positive traits and positive institutions. This book, Authentic Happiness, is the first book on positive psychology. Seligman is its main spokesperson.
= HAPPINESS =
This book mainly deals with the phenomenon of happiness. According to Seligman your enduring level op happiness results from three factors: 1) your SET RANGE ( the basic biologically determined range within which your happiness normally will be), 2) the CIRCUMSTANCES OF YOUR LIFE (some conditions - like being married and living in a democratic country- somehow seem to contribute to happiness, and 3) your VOLUNTARY CONTROL ( the things you can do to get your happiness to the upper part of your set range. Ok, then how to get this done? Before answering this question Seligman explains that happiness/positive emotion can refer to three domains: the PAST (satisfaction, contentment, fulfilment, pride and serenity), the PRESENT (joy, ecstasy, calm, zest, ebullience, pleasure and flow) and the FUTURE (optimism, hope faith, trust). Then the author comes up with suggestions to improve your happiness:
= HOW TO INCREASE YOUR HAPPINESS =
1) to be happier about your past, you need to: 1) let go of the false belief that your past negative experiences determine your present and future, 2) increase your gratitude about the good things in your past and 3) learn how to forgive past wrongs.
2) to be happier in your present, you need to distinguish between PLEASURES and GRATIFICATIONS. Pleasures are delights that have clear sensory and strong emotional components that require little if any thinking. Gratifications are flow-experiences. They are activities we very much like doing but that are not necessarily accompanied by any raw feelings at all. The gratifications last longer than the pleasures and they are undergirded by our strengths and virtues. The key to happiness in past and future lies in enhancing gratifications.
3) to be happier about your future, you need to change your explanatory style in order to become more optimistic and hopeful (for an explanation read my review of Seligman's book LEARNED OPTIMISM).
= AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS BY USING YOUR STRENGTHS =
These explanations imply what Seligman means by AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS. He says we should not rely on shortcuts like television watching, chocolate eating, loveless sex, and buying things to feel happy. He explains that positive emotion alienated from the exercise of character leads to emptiness, to inauthenticity, and to depression. So we want to feel like we deserved our positive feelings. That's why Seligman says UTHENTIC HAPPINESS comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths (so-called SIGNATURE STRENGTHS) and using them everyday in work, love, play, and parenting. This message reminds of the one in Csikszentmihalyi's FINDING FLOW (see my review).
= CORE VIRTUES AND STRENGTHS =
Psychology has devised a classification system (language) for describing abnormal behavior and mental diseases. But it lacked a language describing human effectiveness and sanity. That is why Seligman and a team of scholars researched sources from all kinds of cultures and times in history and found that there is a strong convergence in what these traditions consider to be virtues and strengths. This led to the formulation of a classification system of virtues and strengths. SIX CORE VIRTUES: 1) Wisdom and knowledge, 2) courage, 3) Love and humanity, 4) Justice, 5) Temperance, 6) Spirituality and transcendence. Further they identified 24 strengths corresponding to these virtues. This book contains definitions of this taxonomy and some questionnaires for the reader to complete (the questionnaires can be found on the web too, by the way).
= CONCLUSION =
Some words about the form and style of the book. It is pleasantly written. Seligman writes in a rather personal and honest style which makes the book lively (for instance he exclaims on page 24: "I am a hideous example of my own theory.") I recommend this book to anyone interested in psychology and in happiness (although it is not a self-help book in the first place, I think). The book ends reflectively dealing with the relationship between positive emotions and win-win situations, and speculating that we may be on the threshold of an era of win-win games and good-felling. I enjoyed reading the book and I like positive psychology. It is in many ways reminiscent of humanistic psychology (which I always liked) but has a more scientific approach. I have a good hope it will be a success.
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