About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#97: Authentic Happiness

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, by Martin E. P. Seligman (New York: Free Press, 2002)

"Over a decade ago, Martin Seligman charted a new approach to living with 'flexible optimism.' Now, in his most stimulating and persuasive book to date, the bestselling author of Learned Optimism introduces the revolutionary, scientifically-based idea of 'Positive Psychology.' Positive Psychology focuses on strengths rather than weaknesses, asserting that happiness is not the result of good genes or luck. Seligman teaches readers that happiness can be cultivated by identifying and using many of the strengths and traits that they already possess -- including kindness, originality, humor, optimism, and generosity. By frequently calling upon their 'signature strengths' in all the crucial realms of life, readers will not only develop natural buffers against misfortune and the experience of negative emotion, they will move their lives up to a new, more positive plane.

"Drawing on groundbreaking psychological research, Seligman shows how Positive Psychology is shifting the profession's paradigm away from its narrow-minded focus on pathology, victimology, and mental illness to positive emotion, virtue, and strength, and positive institutions. Our signature strengths can be nurtured throughout our lives, with benefits to our health, relationships, and careers.

"Seligman provides the Signature Strengths Survey along with a variety of brief tests that can be used to measure how much positive emotion readers experience, in order to help determine what their highest strengths are. The life-changing lesson of Authentic Happiness is that by identifying the very best in ourselves, we can improve the world around us and achieve new and sustainable levels of authentic contentment, gratification, and meaning."

Table of Contents:

I: Positive Emotion
  • 1. Positive Feeling and Positive Character
  • 2. How Psychology Lost Its Way and I Found Mine
  • 3. Why Bother to Be Happy?
  • 4. Can You Make Yourself Lastingly Happier?
  • 5. Satisfaction about the Past
  • 6. Optimism about the Future
  • 7. Happiness in the Present
Part II: Strength and Virtue
  • 8. Renewing Strength and Virtue
  • 9. Your Signature Strengths
Part III: In the Mansions of Life
  • 10. Work and Personal Satisfaction
  • 11. Love
  • 12. Raising Children
  • 13. Reprise and Summary
  • 14. Meaning and Purpose
My Take:
Another book that can't quite decide what it wants to be. The overview of positive psychology -- what it is, what the underlying research shows, and so on -- was interesting and informative, even if I find Seligman's dismissal of that branch of psychology that deals with the causes and treatment of mental illness glib and offensive. (Is there a role for psychology in bettering so-called normal, healthy individuals' lives and productivity? Sure. But does that mean it's not important to study or treat, say, schizophrenia, or depression, or alcoholism? Certainly not, though it almost sounds like this is what he's suggesting in places.) And I'll capitalize positive psychology about the time I start capitalizing realtor. Is that really a way to get yourself taken seriously? Why doesn't it seem necessary for, say, doctors and teachers and ministers -- or for molecular biology and child development and economics?

But Seligman's also given to excessive musings about his career and his family (second, presumably much younger wife, four perfectly cherubic home-schooled kids), which comes off as more smug and self-congratulatory than as illustrating important points. Additionally, he can't seem to decide if he wants the book to be an overview of positive psychology or a self-help book ... and the many self-tests and checklists tend to distract from the flow. Perhaps he should have taken a lesson from his one-time mentor, Aaron Beck, in this regard.

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