Customer Reviews: Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being
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on June 23, 2011
The book starts brilliantly. Professor Seligman offers a revision to his famous theory of happiness and puts forward such a thrilling hypothesis, that I was hesitant to put the book down for a while.

However, and as the reader impatiently waits for the good doctor to explain his new theory in details - after all, it is easy to say you need "engagement" without defining what engagement really is and how it can be achieved - the book moves away from the message and turns into a boring, uninteresting manifesto in defence of positive psychology in general, and professor Seligman's credentials in particular.

He spends more time, trying to sell the idea than he does explaining it, as if he is making an extraordinary effort to convert unbelievers, than to preach to the already converted. Considering that the majority of those who would buy the book are among the latter group, I am baffled why he decided to turn this into a marketing material!

The book continues with more validating examples of positive psychology's successes, including two excruciating chapters about Seligman's work with the military. His repeatedly defensive arguments - specially those targeted at Barbara Ehrenreich and her likeminded entourage - are more suitable for an op-ed column than for a book of this calibre.

Toward the end, Seligman steps into an economic debate about the financial crisis, with such flimsy analogies that makes you wonder why this titan of the psychology should step out of his field of expertise so carelessly!

All being said, "Flourish" is a good book, and for those who are looking for fresh ideas, it does provide enough rich and valuable content to justify the time/money invested. It is just disappointing that the book stops short of being a ground-braking masterpiece, and settles for - well - a merely interesting read.

As for those who wanted to know more about Professor's new theory - myself included - "Flourish" is not the book we were waiting for. Let's hope his next book is.
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This is not a great book and it certainly has its flaws. However, it is a fairly well written book by Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive Psychology, and provides a passionate argument for his latest thinking on well being. He has changed his views over the last decade and he explains how and why in this book. The topic is important and if Seligman is right, he has made a major contribution to human flourishing with his work.

I read Barbara Ehrenrich's Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America a while back and I admit that it caused me to doubt to some degree Seligman's credibility. Shame on me and this book showed me how wrong I was to let her influence me in that regard.

If you are looking for a step-by-step recipe for flourishing, a traditional type of self-help book, you will not find it here. This book is much more theoretical and it spends a lot of time on the evidence and research for Seligman's views on well being. Having said that, you certainly can glean what it takes to flourish from reading it. I just want to make clear this book is mostly about theory and evidence and not about practical steps individuals can take on their own.

My biggest complaint about the book is that it spends too much time detailing specific projects the author is currently working on or has worked on in the past. He spends two full chapters on his work with the army. He does that to support his argument and to some degree I think to establish his credibility. While it is somewhat interesting, it's just too much.

If you are interested in a theory of human flourishing then I think this book would be a valuable addition to your library. I definitely recommend it.
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on April 12, 2011
Dr. Seligman starts off reviewing why he has moved on from authentic happiness to well-being. While not giving up on authentic happiness, he argues that while happiness is an important concept, the notion of well-being involves a number of factors in addition to happiness.
The book is comprehensive in nature, covering everything from happiness to sex in space to a denial that he ever helped the U.S. military develop torture techniques. That comprehensiveness, is however, the book's weakness as well as its strength. The book does start with ways to achieve well-being at a personal level, including some exercises to do so. Just as it began to get interesting on that topic, the author switches to introducing well-being into the education system and just as that becomes interesting he switches to well-being in the military and so on. He also has a tendency to go off on tangents throughout the book, further diminishing the book's focus. Because of this it was hard to discern the target audience of the book, with some parts being suitable to the lay-person while others were best suited to psychologists or similar professionals.
Having said all that, I did enjoy the book and found the occasional gem of wisdom. However as stated in a previous critique, this is not a self-help book and those wishing to learn how to flourish will be disappointed. I would recommend his prior book Authentic Happiness for those wanting to learn self-improvement. For those wanting an overview of positive psychology and the various settings it could be used in, the book does provide a basic overall introduction to the subject area. However it does not contain much information that would be useful to the lay-person or to clinicians and their clients.
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on June 25, 2011
I agree with the reviews by Davies, Chuck, Schonzeist, George, and Ahari that point out that Seligman starts out in Chapters 1 & 2 with an important thesis. We can all help our selves to flourish and have a better life. Unfortunately after that the author looses his way. There is too much self-congratulation and too much name dropping. Too many testimonials and too little factual information. The book seems to waver between a guide to flourishing for the intelligent lay person to a guide for professionals to help others flourish. Consequently it is unsatisfactory for either audience. I would hope the author would try again as the topic is of great practical relevance for overcoming the general negativity found in the world today.
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on August 7, 2011
I had positive hopes for Dr. Seligman's new book and only made it to page 66 before I had to put it down and take a break. I am so sad that one of the founders of positive psychology comes across as such a narcissist. I agree with the other writers that his conceptualization is interesting, yet the bulk of his book are his GRAND career reflections. He emphasizes countless times just how smart he is (a doctorate in 3 years, member of elite intellectual clubs, called on by VERY important people around the globe to explain his VERY important theory, asserts that he has BOTH quick and slow forms of thinking-which he explains is the hallmark of HIGH intellect). And there are the elitist clubs, elitist school in Australia, and his elitist program -where for $40000/yr, and specially chosen, you too can join his elitist club (he fails to mention that many doctorate programs in clinical psychology have the same stringent admission criteria and aren't considered 'special'). Really, who actually writes this stuff into a book? Shouldn't someone have stepped up and said, "Marty, this sounds absurd"? I was mortified he chose to describe a comment that his elitist intellectual club made of his student: "what a clunker." What a bunch of judgemental idiots. Dr. Seligman focuses on the fact that HIS student became a 'Ferrari' (of course she did, insert eye roll)-not on the fact that they were wrong, narrow minded and insensitive. I did read the whole book. Until the last few chapters I was still hopeful that it would turn around. In the end,I reflected that I was grateful my intellect (I too got my psychology doctorate in three years and it isn't that miraculous an achievement) has not over inflated my ego and overcome my authenticity, like it seems to have done for its founder.
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on August 11, 2012
Bought it after reading What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement -- and found its exact opposite. This is an amazingly bad book.

It consists of anecdotes of MS's engagements following his success as positive psychology's advocate. You learn what these were, how exclusive; who he met, and how awe-stricken he was. Quite a lot of name dropping, some quotations, dialogue (?!) and many flattering characterizations of customers, students, protégés.

Some minor, random summary of the work done follows (e.g. we are building the world's biggest database of X, which will be of great use to humanity, its value as paramount that of XYZ; no results as of now but looks great). Descriptions are short, cursory and irrelevant - they read like marketing briefs for IT products.

The author ignores the subject matter. The first chapter lists aspects MS _believes_ are paramount to a good life (e.g. meaning, engagement). And that's it. Some techniques are mentioned by name as side-note examples of what was offered. No details, no techniques, no outcomes beyond 'the customer was extremely satisfied'.

The foreword says that 'the book will make you flourish'. And proceeds to blatantly ignore the reader. I have no idea who it was supposed to help, and how. I find this offensive.
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VINE VOICEon April 9, 2011
I have read most of Martin Seligman's books, and let me say up front I'm grateful for his work as founder of the positive psychology movement. There is a lot of data that a pessimistic take on events does not make for either physical health or general wellbeing--and these studies are so consistent it is hard to imagine they're all wrong. What if you tend to look a bit too much at the dark side of events? Can you change? The idea is not to become Pollyanna-to-the-point-of-stupidity, of course, but only to cultivate a somewhat sunnier outlook. Well, it turns out you can change, at least to an extent, and Dr. Seligman has pioneered techniques to increase optimism. I've personally found some of the methods he recommends helpful. I particularly like the "three blessings" exercise in which each day one picks out three things that have gone well. This helps shift the mind to a focus on what is good in everyday life. The idea of making a point of using "signature strengths" to cope on a daily basis with life's challenges is also useful. (A quiz to help you identify your strengths is included in this book.) I like the fact that positive psychology is based on empirical studies rather than wishful thinking, and there is data to show its techniques work.

This is not a self-help book, however, but more of an account of Dr. Seligman's reconsideration of the ultimate goal of positive psychology. Rather than mere mood enhancement, he sees a different and broader aim--flourishing, which includes having good relationships with others and a generally meaningful life. There is an interesting discussion here of what makes for happiness in the truest sense. Also the book contains a detailed account of Dr. Seligman's pro bono work with the U.S. Army, fostering resilience. (I was moved by his revealing the personal motives--he is the grandson of immigrants lucky to escape the Holocaust--that led him to do this work.) There is abundant material on using positive psychology in corporate or school settings. All to my mind quite fascinating.

So, to sum up, there's a lot here about the expanded theory and applying positive psychology in organizations. And it is all interesting and clearly written enough that I read this book eagerly in a couple of sittings. Still, people looking for an introduction to the field of positive psychology and in particular those who want to use its findings to become happier, might prefer Dr, Seligman's earlier book AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS. (FLOURISH does describe many of the same techniques mentioned in AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS but it has a broader focus.)

If when I read a psychology book I take away one technique for fostering better relationships--something I didn't know before--I'm thrilled. The information here on how to help people celebrate their wins in life and increase their joy was eye-opening. You say "Of course" when you read this, and then thinking about it, you realize you've learned something new and useful. This is on many levels a great book.
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on October 3, 2011
I disagree with the bragging criticism of reviewers: Dr. Seligman, for the most part, is giving a history of his life in psychology, so I don't perceive the details as "name dropping." However, I absolutely agree that the book's thesis is NOT delivered on. I listened to the audio version and had to keep rewinding to understand how we had jumped from one topic/example to the next, often without a logical transition. There is too much redundancy and entirely too many testimonials.

One reviewer stated "The book seems to waver between a guide to flourishing for the intelligent lay person to a guide for professionals to help others flourish. Consequently it is unsatisfactory for either audience." This is a great two-liner to summarize the flaws in this book.
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on May 2, 2011
Positive psychology has come to be defined as "the scientific study of what enables individuals and communities to thrive". "Flourish" explores this concept of thriving. The last 15 years, Martin Seligman has been one of the major driving forces behind positive psychology. He has authored influential bestsellers such as Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life (1991) and Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (2002). Now, again about a decade later, Seligman writes a new account of what he has been teaching and telling on conferences lately. He does so in a somewhat peculiar mix: a) a manifesto for a broad science of well-being, b) accounts of positive psychology research and practice, interlaced with c) a backstage history of positive psychology.

a) First of all, "Flourish" is a manifesto for a science of well-being. Seligman departs from his earlier "Authentic Happiness" concept and posits the broader topic of "well-being". "Authentic happiness" comprised three components: 1. positive emotion (feeling good), 2. engagement (flow) and 3. meaning. Seligman now adds two more components of well-being: 4. positive relationships and 5. accomplishment. To my humble opinion, the addition of 4. positive relationships is long overdue, whereas the addition of 5. accomplishment may turn out to be controversial.

b) Next, this book gives several examples of well-being research. Don't expect yet another pop self-help peptalk of "happiness in 5 easy steps". In a sound academic style, Seligman describes research on positive psychology exercises, post-traumatic growth, links between psychological well-being and health, and promising future research on well-being. Seligman also offers the reader a short peek into existing well-being (teaching) programs such as positive psychotherapy, MAPP (training Masters in Positive Psychology), Penn Resiliency Program (in schools), Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (in the U.S. Army), ...

c) Last (but not least), Seligman describes the history of Positive Psychology, the backstage academic and political bickering, the impact on science, media and politics. Seligman does not eschew stressing his own importance in this, balancing it with a self-depreciating humor (although it remains doubtful whether all readers really want to know about his diarrhea ensuing his watermelon diet).

These three thematic threads are intertwined in this book totaling 349 pages (First U.S. hardcover edition April 2011). Don't be misguided by the lack of notes in the main text: in the back, this book does contain 49 pages of extensive, page-per page notes where you can check many of the quoted scientific studies. A topic and name index of 28 pages is also included.

The book is definitely a U.S. product and may not always resonate with people from non-Anglo-Saxon cultures. This may be one of the major challenges in reaching the commendable and ambitious mission articulated at the end of this book: "By the year 2051, 51 percent of the people of the world will be flourishing."

I found "Flourish" a fascinating read that has held me captivated for three days straight.
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on May 29, 2011
After reading the first few pages, I thought I'd buy three copies, one for myself and one for each of my grown daughters. My attitude quickly changed. Although his basic principles appear right-on, he spends most of the book selling his ideas, providing the rationale for his ideas and the experimental support for his theories but he provides very few examples of how to actually "flourish." After a while I felt like I was just reading a marketing brochure for the courses his organization was offering.
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