Customer Review

275 of 301 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extremely worthwhile book, March 4, 2003
This review is from: Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (Hardcover)
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).
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Location: Santa Rosa, CA USA

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