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Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment Paperback – January 5, 2004
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Caroline Myss Author of Sacred Contracts Authentic Happiness is delightful and richly insightful. Martin Seligman has written a very practical book, guiding readers to make positive choices in life.
Steven Pinker Author of The Language Instinct A highly insightful scientific and personal reflection on the nature of happiness, from one of the most creative and influential psychologists of our time.
Elle A bold new plan for taking control of your life and finding lasting happiness.
About the Author
Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., the Robert A. Fox Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, works on positive psychology, learned helplessness, depression, ethnopolitical conflict, and optimism. Dr. Seligman's work has been supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation. He is the director of the Positive Psychology Network and scientific director of Foresight, Inc., a testing company that predicts success in various walks of life.
He was for fourteen years the Director of the Clinical Training Program of the University of Pennsylvania and was named a "Distinguished Practitioner" by the National Academies of Practice. In 1995, he received the Pennsylvania Psychological Association's award for "Distinguished Contributions to Science and Practice."
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You can’t say it without getting weird looks. You can’t even think it without feeling like a hypocrite. Virtue? Isn’t that something Victorians believed in? Look where that got us: a world so full of oppression that the sun never sets on it.
I used to be in that camp. Virtue was a guilty pleasure of mine. I believed in it (sort of). But I always felt like either a faker or a cultural imperialist for doing so. Whenever the word popped into my mind, I gave myself one good mental flogging as penance.
The field of psychology seems to have been beset by similar demons. Much of the research agenda has been dedicated to identifying pathology (things gone very wrong), and mitigating it where possible.
That is, until now (or, to be more accurate, until about ten years ago). Martin Seligman is one of the founders of the field of Positive Psychology, a new branch of research that tries to identify what can go very right.
His findings are compiled in Authentic Happiness. The book has vindicated virtue, at least in my mind.
Seligman has spent the last decade plus trying to identify the sources of human flourishing. He has found a combination of six such sources appearing in literature from the Indus Valley to the Japanese Archipelago to the Mediterranean Sea (how about South America, Africa, or the annals of the Iroquois Nation? I’m not sure. I bet you’d find these traits in abundance there, too, if you looked).
The six (drumroll please) more-or-less ubiquitous human virtues as uncovered by Seligman’s team of graduate students are….
Ha! As if I’m going to just tell you. Go read the book!
Sike. I’ll tell you.
1) Wisdom and Knowledge
3) Love and Humanity
6) Spirituality and Transcendence (defined as moving beyond narrow self-interest)
Quibble as you will, this seems like a good place to start. The first step to becoming a better person is believing that it is possible. For a long time I didn’t. I thought that the best I could do was keep to myself; I cowered in fear of offending anyone’s sensibilities with my notions of good and bad, or of taking on a model I couldn’t live up to. I’m done with that.
I may go down, but at least I’ll go down swinging.
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!
The book, of course, does make other points--namely, to attribute your failures to temporary, changeable conditions and your successes to your implicit characteristics, a tendency Seligman calls optimism, and to use your strengths in order to be in "flow" more often--but these were less helpful and less actionable, imo. And again, these could have been described in short blog posts as well.
Most of the book is taken up with rambling, mostly personal anecdotes, which I suppose is par for the course for books intended for a lay audience like this one is, but I found them uninteresting and unhelpful. I just skimmed through most of them. Maybe it's just me, but I usually just want books like this to get to the point, and this one takes forever to do so.