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Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being Paperback – February 7, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the guru of the "positive psychology" movement, abandons his previous emphasis on happiness, which he now views as simplistic, to examine how individuals might achieve a richer, multilayered goal: a life of well-being. He identifies four factors that can help individuals thrive: positive emotion, engagement with what one is doing, a sense of accomplishment, and good relationships. Those expecting a guide on how to achieve these goals will be disappointed; Seligman's approach is largely conceptual and empirical, although he has some useful things to say, such as how even soldiers with PTSD can be taught resilience to recover and even grow from their traumas, and how students of all ages can be taught focus, delayed gratification, and GRIT, a combination of drive and perseverance. But Seligman includes too much on the mechanics of conducting his studies. Also, he can be self-congratulatory regarding his own theory, and harsh and reductionist on traditional treatments ("psychology-as-usual—the psychology of victims and negative emotions and alienation and pathology and tragedy"). This is a potentially important book whose impact may be limited by its flaws. (Apr.)
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"Repaves the path to true happiness. A relentlessly optimistic guidebook on finding and securing individual happiness." –Kirkus
"Important" --Publishers Weekly
"I was immediately charmed... Seligman's intentions are admirable and exciting. He is consumed by his mission, which is to take psychology on from its traditional role in alleviating misery, and broaden it into positive psychology -- the entirely different art of teaching us how to be wiser, stronger, more generous to others, more self-disciplined, and more capable of dealing with difficulty and rejection... The book is full of nuggets about why positive approaches work."
The Sunday Times
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Being a bit leery of the topic of "positive psychology" and Seligman's earlier title, "Authentic Happiness", I was surprised and relieved to see that this book is about how to achieve a life of well being. His basic framework of "PERMA" - Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationship, Meaning, and Accomplishment - resonates with realism as well as optimism. I was especially interested to see how his concepts have been embraced by sectors such as the military, as well as educational systems, both public and private. Just this week, Seligman and his views showed up in a New York Times article on education and the character traits that drive future performance and success.
So I recommend this book about a system of learning and living that is proven in research, in application, and in the service of a life well-lived. It has provided a useful framework for my own growth (which is hugely important for me even at age 63) and for my coaching engagements.
Seligman provides the acronym PERMA to summarize Positive Psychology's correlational findings: humans seem happiest when they have:
* Pleasure (tasty foods, warm baths, etc.),
* Engagement (or flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity),
* Relationships (social ties have turned out to be extremely reliable indicator of happiness),
* Meaning (a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger), and
* Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals).
Some reviews have criticized the lack of step by step plans. My guess is they did not do the work as outlined in Flourish on Seligman's website: [...]
A few of my favorite ideas from Flourish are:
* It is better to believe we are lucky than unlucky aka be optimistic.
* Describing success as being the result of work instead of luck. "You must have worked really hard to do that" vs "You got lucky."
* Avoiding PTSD in soldiers and others by implanting the idea & values of post traumatic growth.
* Citing basic research as proof of how concepts work. This gave the ideas vastly greater credibility over self-improvement gurus lacking research to support their theory de jour.
Few of these concepts are new: work hard; value relationships with others; be nice; etc. Most of Seligman's ideas are found in the world's great religions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and others. They just did not have the PhDs back in the day to do studies on well-being like we do now.
Personally, I prefer the term "well-being" to "flourish", but semantics aside, the theory and application, conveyed by a passionate practitioner makes for good reading and forms a basis for action.
It would help to have more of the "exercises" laid out or readily available in an online supplement. Certainly the Authentic Happiness profile instruments are helpful in this regard. Also, some of the derivative works, like Jeni Hooper's What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step, can help with structured application.
Thank you Dr. Seligman.