163 of 168 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2005
I quickly read this book a couple of years ago and thought it was very good, but I got little benefit. Then, called to jury duty, I grabbed it going out the door. Sitting a room in LA with 200 people and after reading 4 newspapers, I reread the first 100 pages of this book. But I read it the way I did textbooks, pen in hand, underlining, diagraming, analyzing and synthesizing. I digested the book. I did the forgiveness exercise. I took the surveys and I added up my scores. Then I did the appreciation exercise. I was struck that several of the people I decided I needed to forgive also turned up as people who did things for me that I greatly appreciated. I have moved work and wealth into a lower priority and moved my subjective health, fitness and nutrition into a higher priority. Now, I try to be mindful and savory the experiences of today. I am still struggling with other exercises and methods, but I am grateful to one more person, Dr. Seligman who wrote a great book. My family and coworders enjoy me more. I have ordered the audiobook, too. If you are chronically unhappy, irritable, often angry, this book may be life changing for you. But don't just breeze throught like I did the first time, read carefully and more than once.
111 of 116 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2009
Written by the former president of the American Psychological Association, and author of over a dozen books including the popular Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, this title is one of the better selling happiness books out there.
While this is the kind of book I could write a really long review about, I think I'll just discuss what I consider to be the best bits for those looking for ways to become happier- which I think is why most people would buy this book. Soooo.....
1) the book provides the reader with a "happiness formula", which is H = S + C + V. This works out to happiness = your genetic Set point + intervening Circumstances + factors under you Voluntary control. So, since your can't do much about changing your genetics, when it comes to becoming happier, that leaves room for improvement in the areas of circumstances and voluntary activities.
2) the book suggests that if you want to lastingly raise your level of happiness by changing the external circumstances of your life, you should: live in a wealthy democracy, get married, avoid negative events and negative emotion, acquire a rich social network, and get religion. Conversely, you needn't bother to do the following: make more money, stay healthy, get as much education as possible, or try to change your race or move to a sunnier climate. However even if you could alter all of these things, it would not do much for you as this stuff accounts for only a small part of your happiness. On to Voluntary efforts...
3) This is where most of the book spends a substantial part of its efforts showing you how to be happier, and there's a lot of "meat" to sink your teeth into, with sections on how to obtain more satisfaction with your past, what consitutes happiness about the future, and happiness in the present. Also, the book spend much time talking about how happiness can be cultivated by identifying and nurturing our traits, such as humor, optimism, generosity or kindness.
Readers who have read other happiness books will already be well familiar with the idea that the best way to increase your happiness is through intentional or voluntary activities. It makes a lot of sense, as you can't change your genetics, and circumstances are either out of your control, or make very little contributions to your happiness. Like this book, I agree that using intentional activities is the route to go when it comes to raising lasting happiness levels- and this book will help you out with that a lot. Readers might also be interested in The Prayer Project: How Each One of Us Can Make The World a Better Place to Live - In a Few Minutes a Day.
281 of 307 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2003
As a psychologist, I completely understand Martin Seligman's drive to free psychology from its obsession with negativity. Freud, he writes, made many people "unduly embittered about their past and unduly passive about their future," while clinical psychology focussed on diagnosing and treating mental disorders. In his new book, Authentic Happiness, Seligman goes a long way towards breaking psychology free from its love affair with pathology and replacing it with a far more positive approach.
I don't know of anyone with better credentials to guide readers through what psychology has discovered about happiness. Seligman's own research has contributed greatly to our understanding of the entire range of human experience from profound depression to "abundant gratification." His early, groundbreaking studies of learned helplessness provided great insight into inescapable trauma as a major source of helplessness and depression. He went on to study "learned optimism" as a powerful antidote to depression--his earlier book by that name is invaluable.
Now, Seligman sets out to provide readers with the insights and tools from the relatively new field of positive psychology. He does this with a rich mixture of anecdotes, personal revelations and research. In addition, he provides frequent self-assessments and exercises. I think that almost anyone who takes the time to read what Seligman has to say, who takes and thinks about the self assessments, and who does the exercises, will start thinking and acting in ways that lead to lasting happiness.
It's important to realize that Seligman is not a self-help guru by any stretch of the imagination. He is a leading research psychologist who builds on solid experimental findings. (Although the book is vividly written for the most part, at times Seligman's reliance on research findings slows things down.) Still, he is also devoted to the idea of making those often dry experiments as meaningful and useful as possible. He doesn't promise limitless bliss, but what he does offer may actually be reachable by ordinary, unenlightened people like us.
Early in the book Seligman makes the point that pleasure in itself is not the road to happiness. As we all know, pleasure is fleeting, and pursuing it can easily turn into addiction or futility. Instead Seligman identifies and values a set of nearly universal virtues which he believes lead to deep and lasting gratification. These include wisdom and knowledge, courage, love and humanity, justice, temperance, spirituality and transcendance. "The good life," he writes, "is using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification."
What I liked most about this book is that it made me feel good about myself, other people, and the "simple" virtues that make up much of the fabric of life, but which are often ignored and devalued. Kindness, tolerance, competence, interpersonal skills, a work ethic, and faith emerge as vital ingredients of a good, gratifying, happy life.
Authentic Happiness is not a miracle cure for all unhappiness. It is, however, a wise, well-informed, and extremely valuable guide to a more grounded, heartfelt and gratifying life.
Robert Adler, Author of _Sharing the Children: How to Resolve Custody Problems and Get on With Your Life_(1988, 2nd. Ed. 2001), and _Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation_ (2002).
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
In this well-written, very accessible book, Martin Seligman points out that traditional psychology has always focused on the pathology of the human condition: illness and trauma. By understanding more about what makes people exceptionally well - happy, positive, optimistic - and recognizing that those who have these characteristics are more likely not only to have rewarding lives, but also to be successful in the world, Seligman believes that those who are naturally pessimistic or focused on the down-side can shift their perspective and become happier people.
While this is not a self-help book per se, it does offer tools - including a series of self-evaluations (also available at the Authentic Happiness website) - to help readers understand their strengths and how they can adjust their own viewpoint to become happier.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in positive psychology and the power of positive thinking. This book is grounded in solid research; it's not "fluffy" in any way!
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Much research has shown that people have a set range of happiness, and they're likely to stay within this set range throughout their lives, returning to it over and over again. Dr. Seligman proposes a slightly different way of looking at this situation and represents it with the following equation: H = S + C + V where H is your overall current happiness, S is your set range, C is the influence of current life events, and V represents those factors under your voluntary control. His idea is that while you can't really change your set range, you can set yourself up to experience the highest part of that range a much greater portion of the time.
He believes you can do this by altering how you view your life (past, present and future), using psychological strategies to make your life more pleasant, and discovering and using to the fullest what he calls your "signature strengths."
The research in this book is quite methodical and solid. Seligman systematically lays out the details of dozens of studies (at least!) and decades of research by luminaries and students alike. This is a thick book. Not dry, thankfully, and not inaccessible, but definitely thick. It isn't something you can skim in two hours and be done with; it takes some time to read through, digest, and absorb. This is not a bad thing. Everything is explained with care and attention to detail.
This is an immensely practical and helpful book. It doesn't just talk about happiness; it provides concrete strategies backed up by thorough research that can help you to improve your happiness and your satisfaction with your life. This truly is a how-to book on happiness. The research is solid, careful, and well-thought-out. Dr. Seligman, a self-avowed pessimist, makes it easy for non-optimists to see and understand his points; unlike many optimists he doesn't boil it down to a simple "cheer up!" but instead gives us critical evidence and practical strategies. This is a courageous, in-depth, thoughtful, and highly helpful book for just about anyone from a brilliant researcher. I have no hesitation in recommending it, and will probably be passing it on to several people I know.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2002
As a physician who has treated clinical depression and anxiety the past 16 years, I have studied the best of pop psychology [Burns, Peurifoy, Bourne]. The standout feature of Seligman is that he is able to take high level scientific data and incorporate it into his lay literture. It provides for a strong argument in trying to convince the reader of the topic a hand. Also, Seligman is able to provide us with a progression of any of his previous written work. So 10 years ago, he presented us with "flexible" or learned optimism. Now, he has acquired enough data to back-up that basic concept and lay the foundation for the whole new field of "Positive Psychology". He truly is a visionary in this field. And yes, he most likely will succeed in cultivating a new branch of psychology.
56 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2002
After wide-reaching research across time and cultures, Martin Seligman has identified six virtues: Wisdom and learning, courage, love and humanity, justice, temperance, spirituality and transcendence. In "Authentic Happiness" he describes how to strengthen your character in order to develop these life-affirming virtues. Unlike traditional psychotherapy, which revolves around a "talking cure" and seeks to identify traumatic events in a person's past, and even to assign blame, Seligman's Positive Psychology focuses on developing your "signature strengths", and on learning what you will find genuinely fulfilling in life.
Using personal anecdotes in addition to well-documented (and in some cases, surprising) studies, he demonstrates how we can avoid being trapped by the downward spiral of negativity and depression. This is a remarkable book that defies classification. It should not be limited to the "self-help" genre, as Seligman goes far beyond that to introduce a new way of thinking about individual potential. Highly recommended.
120 of 148 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2002
This could be the greatest book that I've ever reviewed. Virtually turning psychology
and psychiatry upside-down and starting virtually from scratch. The author first
emphasizes the value of modern day psychotherapy. Out of dozens of mental
diseases, only two are curable. What is the answer? The author is a distinguished
scientist and author of the best-selling book, "Learned Optimism." Also, the
leading researcher of depression. So this is really a book that is going to
create havoc. As did B.F. Skinner's legendary "Beyond Freedom and Dignity."
Skinner's book failed to change the world as predicted. This book might.
The main concept of Positive Psychology (this new science) is quite easy to grasp.
From Freud until now, mental health professionals have been concentrating
on disease or a negative psychology. Finding out what is wrong with you.
And they have, for the most part, failed. But what if we increase positive traits
such as kindness, courage, or humor. Evidence shows that a positive orientation.
is the best way to dissolve mental illness. And this is what Positive Psychology
is all about. The website is not operating yet as of this writing (August 24, 2002).
But please bookmark Seligman's site after you buy the book. In the book, twenty-four strengths are picked out as being most valuable for us at this time. You are
supposed to pick out the strongest five that you have. These are your five
"signature strengths." From these, you will model your work life, love life, and personal life. There is a chapter devoted to an update on increasing the strength.
of Optimism. That chapter is worth the book alone. Finding out our five signature strengths is the core of the book. This can account for tremendous dissatisfaction.
in our jobs and marriages. This is a bold and frightening book. Mainly because
Seligman is so highly respected in the world of psychology and psychiatry. If
Positive Psychology works, Seligman will be bigger than Freud. If it fails, he will
look like a buffoon. Thank you. I hope this review helped.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2003
We are lucky that a heavy weight in experimental psychology has taken an interest in these areas. It took someone of Seligman's stature to marshal the funding and qualified manpower in order to study the areas of positive emotion and strengths of character. I'm not sure I agree that psychology has done enough to study pathology, but I do believe that it is high time that we begin to spend more time and resources in an effort to understand how people who lead highly satisfying lives do so.
His formula describing happiness makes sense. It is interesting that experimental psychology is coming to the same conclusion as so many philosophers have, that in an effort to lead the good life, striving after pleasures along leave us coming up short. Seligman does't deride pursuing pleasure, in fact, he gives us some assistance getting the most from sensory pleasures, but he points toward the matching of signature strengths to opportunities as the primary source of happiness that is under our control. This does not surprise me as it seems to be an example of consiliance among many thinkers from Dewey, to Rogers and Maslow to Csikszentmihalyi not to mention the many philosophers that have reached the conclusion by more absract means.
His website has many useful tests that are scored with lightning speed and that give you comparitive data about thousands of others who have taken the same test. The only question I have about all this data his is compiling and basing his research on is how does he rule out the desire to be socially approved. I found myself struggling with some questions in an effort to distinguish between what I strive to be like, or what I would like to be like and where I actually am at currently.
Therapists, folks in the self-help market and many others will find much that is useful in this book that looks like it will the the first and most general of a field that one hopes is taking its first toddler steps.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I have been using positive psychology for many years, and am a member of the International Positive Psychology Association. However, I'd never read this book till now.
Martin writes beautiful, easy to read prose, and, like all great writers, lets you into his own life. He becomes a real person in these pages.
His analyses and recommendations are all based on scientific research, and are in accord with accepted best practice. This makes the book an excellent introduction for psychotherapists who are as yet unfamiliar with positive psychology.
At the same time, the book is actually designed as a self-help tool for lay people. As such, perhaps it is a little too academic. Any intelligent, educated person will get immense benefits from applying its recommendations, but it may be a struggle for someone who barely completed high school -- and they deserve a good life too.
Like many American writers in the field, going back to Abraham Maslow, Martin is enthocentric without realizing it. The very title assumes that, of course, happiness is the goal of life. This is actually untrue for most of the human occupants of this planet. As Viktor Frankl showed, meaning and purpose are far more important, and can lead to contentment in situations that preclude happiness.
My only other complaint is about the way notes are organized. References, and frequent interesting comments, are in a separate endnotes section. While reading the first one-third of the book, I kept turning to this section at the end of each page, but it was rather onerous and distracting to do so.
All in all, this is a book that will uplift your spirit. If you implement its recommendations, it will change your life for the better. It is a classic of the psychological literature.
Dr Bob Rich