Authentic Happiness : Using New Positive Psychology to Realize your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment By Martin E. P. Seligman
I picked this book up in San Francisco in the $2 section. I was visiting my college friends in SF that weekend and we were in an area near UC Berkeley. Fate would have it that this was the first book that caught my eye. After reading a few pages, I was hooked.
Unlike the majority of Psychological Research focusing on negative behaviors, this book does a 180 and focuses on positive psychology. Through statistics and research, Seligman uses research and statistics from different findings to suggest ways to not only be less depressed but to try to be the happiest you can be.
Note : Most of this review is a basic summary of what he wrote. I did a lot of paraphrasing but this is just my notes on the book so that I can always look back and review. I hope this helps you outline the book as well and if you’d like to pick up a copy, there’s a link here.
Seligman explains that Roughly 50% of our personality traits come from genetic inheritance. He believes we all have a set range of happiness that we can personally feel. Through some investigation, he finds out the exact formula that can help us stay in the top range of our happiness.
First, we examine Warner Wilson’s research as he advises the psychological world that happy people are the following :
- Well paid
- Well educated
- Of either sex
- Of any level of intelligence
Seligman’s views on each topic of discussion.
- Money is important. Looking at poorer countries, we can see that wealth in the nation will make a difference in standard of living as well as overall happiness but materialism becomes counterproductive. People who value money more than other goals are less satisfied with their income and with their lives as a whole.
- Marriage can improve your happiness drastically IF & ONLY IF you are happily married. If you are unhappily married you are worse off than if you decided to get divorced.
- Social life with more friends and deeper connections will make you happier.
- Age isn’t a factor as your pleasant affects decrease as you age but your life satisfaction increases.
- Negative emotions surprisingly does not mean you will not be happy. For example, women experience more depression than men but also studies show that they have considerably more positive emotions as well. Women typically feel more intensely than men in general.
- Health does not play a huge role in your happiness. “Even severely ill cancer patients differ only slightly on global life satisfaction compared to healthy people.”
- Education, Climate, Race & Gender on average do not play a huge factor into your happiness.
- Religion actually can be very impactful into your happiness. Building communities and having faith in the future can benefit your life immensely.
To summarize, looking at outside forces to help improve your happiness you can :
- Live in a wealthy democracy, not in an impoverished dictatorship (a strong effect)
- Get married (a strong effect, but perhaps not casual)
- Avoid negative events and negative emotion (only a moderate effect)
- Acquire a rich social network (a strong effect, but perhaps not casual)
- Get a religion (a moderate effect)
As far as happiness and life satisfaction are concerned, you needed bother :
- Making more money (money has little or no effect once you are comfortable. And materialistic people are less happy)
- Stay healthy (subjective health, not objective health matters)
- Get as much education as possible (no effect)
- Change your race or move to a sunnier climate (no effect)
Satisfaction about the Past
This section looks at the positive emotions you can feel from the past :
There are three ways you can lastingly feel more happiness about your past.
- Intellectually, letting go of an ideology that your past determines your future.
- The next two are emotional. Increasing your gratitude about the good things in your past intensifies positive memories.
- And learning how to forgive past wrongs diffuses it.
Optimism about the Future
Permanence : People who give up easily believe the causes of bad events that happen to them are permanent.
|Permanent (Pessimistic) “The boss is a bastard.”||Temporary (Optimistic) “The boss is in a bad mood.”|
|Temporary (Pessimism) “I try hard.”||Permanent (Optimism) “I’m talented.”|
Pervasiveness : People who make universal explanations for their failures give up everything when a failure strikes in one area.
|Universal (Pessimism) “I’m repulsive.”||Specific (Optimism) “I’m repulsive to him.”|
|Specific (Pessimism) “I’m smart at math.”||Universal (Optimism) “I’m smart.”|
Increasing Optimism & Hope
- ABCDE Method (Adversity, Beliefs, Consequences, Disputation, Energization)
- Learn to Argue with Yourself When your Feeling Pessimistic
Happiness in the Present
Two Types of Happiness
Enhancing the Pleasures
- How you spread out your pleasures are crucial. Inject into your life as many events that produce pleasure as you can, but spread them out, letting more time elapsed between them than you normally do.
- Sharing with others.
- Sharpening perceptions
The Gratification : Here are the Components
- The task is challenging and requires skill
- We concentrate
- There are clear goals
- We get immediate feedback
- We have deep, effortless involvement
- There is a sense of control
- Our sense of self vanishes
- Time stops
Notice there is no positive emotion on the list of essential components. Compared to pleasures, where we are just consuming, when we are engaged (absorbed in flow), we are investing, building psychological capital (absorbed in flow).
Though the countries purchasing power, amount of education, availability of music and nutrition has gone up, Depression is now ten times as prevalent as it was in the 1960s. Seligman theorized that a huge contributing factor may be the reliance on shortcuts to happiness : television, drugs, alcohol, shopping, loveless sex, spectator sports, chocolate, etc.
Here is a powerful antidote to the epidemic of depression in youth : strive for more gratifications, while toning down the pursuit of pleasure. Though the process of switch from less pleasures to more gratifications can be difficult as gratifications require skill and effort as well as the possibility of failing, it will be much more rewarding in the long run.
- Wisdom & knowledge
- Love & humanity
- Spirituality & Transcendence
Your Signature Strengths
- Wisdom & Knowledge
- Love of Learning
- Social Intelligence
- Humanity & Love
- Appreciation of beauty
There is a fantastic quiz in the book (pg 141-159 or you can find it on his website) to figure out your signature strengths to help you find what will help you incorporate more flow in your daily life.
Work & Personal Satisfaction
Find work that works for you
- Identify your signature strengths
- Choose work that lets you use them every day
- Redraft your present work to use your signature strengths more
- If you are the employer, choose employees whose signature strengths mesh with the work they do
The key is not finding the right job, it is finding a job you can make right through recrafting.
Marriage is a more potent happiness factor than satisfaction with job, or finances, or community. David Myers says in his documented American Paradox, “In fact, there are few stronger predictors of happiness than a close, nurturing, equitable, intimate, lifelong companionship with one’s best friend.”
Married people have the least depression and never-married people the next least, followed by people divorced once, people cohabiting, and people divorced twice.
- Secure adults remember their parents as available, warm and affectionate.
- Avoidant adults remember their mothers as cold, rejecting and unavailable.
- Anxious adults remember their fathers as unfair.
- Secure adults have high self-esteem and few self-doubts. Other people like them and they regard other people as trustworthy, reliable, good hearted and helpful until sad experiences proves otherwise.
- Avoidant adults regard other people as suspicion, as dishonest and untrustworthy (guilty until proven innocent). They lack confidence, especially in social situations.
- Anxious adults feel they have little control over their lives, find other people hard to understand and predict, and so are puzzled by other people.
- Secure adults strive for intimate relationships with those they love and try to find a good balance of dependence and independence.
- Avoidant people try to keep their distance from those they love, and they put a greater weight on achievement than on intimacy.
- Anxious people cling; they fear rejection continually and they discourage autonomy and independence in the people they love.
- Managing distress
- Secure people admit it when they are upset, and they try to use their distress to achieve constructive ends.
- Avoidant people don’t disclose. They don’t tell you when they are upset; they do not show or admit to anger.
- Anxious people flaunt their distress and anger, and when threatened they become too compliant and solicitous.
John Gottman, a professor at the University of Washington predicts in advance which couples will divorce and which will stay together with over 90% accuracy. The harbingers are as follows :
- A harsh startup in a disagreement
- Criticism of partner, rather than complaints
- Displays of contempt
- Hair-trigger defensiveness
- Lack of validation ((particularly stonewalling)
- Negative body language
On the positive side, Gottman finds that if these couples devote an extra 5 hours/week to their marriage, they will see major improvements over the years.
- Partings : Before these couples say goodbye every morning, they find out one thing that each is going to do that day. (2 minutes x 5 days = 10 minutes)
- Reunions : At the end of each workday, these couples have a low-stress reunion conversation. (20 minutes x 5 days = 1 hr, 40 min)
- Affection : Touching, grabbing, holding, and kissing — all laced with tenderness and forgiveness (5 minutes x 7 days = 35 min)
- One weekly date : Just the two of you in a relaxed atmosphere updating your love (2 hrs)
- Admiration and appreciation : Every day, genuine affection and appreciation is given at least once (5 min x 7 days = 35 min)
Sandra Murray, a professor at the State University of New York, studied romantic illusions in romance by asking many married and dating couples to rate themselves & their partner on a variety of strengths and faults. She also asked friends to fill out these ratings about each member of the couple as well. The crucial measure is the discrepancy between what your partner believes about your strengths and what your friends believe. The bigger the discrepancy in a positive direction, the bigger the romantic “illusion” that your partner has of you.
Eight Techniques for Building Positive Emotions in Your Child
- Sleeping with You Baby : When the baby always wakes up to find her parents right next to her, fear of abandonment wanes and a sense of security grows. (You will not roll over and kill your baby. I cannot vouch for this statement as I do not currently have a baby, but the book says it so I’m just regurgitating.)
- Synchrony Games : These games help your baby understand that their actions matter and that they are in control of their own lives.
- Toys : Stacking blocks that they can stack and knock over, Books and magazines that they can tear, cardboard crates that you can cut doors and windows out of and invite your toddler inside.
- Drawbacks from Synchrony Games : Children need to fail. They will start to feel sad, anxious and angry. When we impulsively protect our children from failure, we deprive them of learning skills.
- Yes & No : Say no less times or the child will expect no’s from the world.
- Drawbacks of Few “No’s” : When shopping, kids always want everything. Instead of saying “No”, try to reply with this example “Your birthday is coming up in 2 months, why don’t we put this one the wishlist.” This will teach your kids not to impulse buy and to become future-minded. Or you can try to swap chores for the toy. “How about you help mommy sweep the floors every night and for the next 3 weeks and we will come back and buy you that toy?”
- Praise & Punishment : When you reward your child with praise regardless of what she does, she may not learn from her failures and her successes. Looking at punishment, the infliction fails frequently because the safety signals are often unclear to the child. When you punish a child, you must ensure that the danger signal, and therefore the safety signal, is completely clear. Make sure he knows exactly what action he is being punished for.
- Sibling Rivalry : With each child occupying a specific niche for chores that lets them use their peculiar strengths, we buffer against rivalry.
- Bedtime Nuggets : There are two activities we do to help children at night.
- Best Moments : This helps shape a positive state-of-mind ratio that we hope, our children will internalize as they grow up. We ask them what they liked doing that day, listen to them, and at the end ask them to count how many good things happened and how many bad happened, then get them excited about tomorrow.
- Dreamland : Ask each child to call up a really happy picture in their heads then get each one to describe it and concentrate on it and give it a name in words. You will instruct your children in a hypnotic tone of voice, “I want you to do three things. First, keep the picture in your head; second, say the name over and over as you fall asleep; and third, intend to have a dream about it.”
- Making a Deal : Making a deal with a four-year-old implies some significant assumptions : that parents can contract with a child so young, that a reward can precede rather than follow the behavior to be strengthened, and that your child expects that if he misbehaves he will both break his promise and lose his newfound prize.
- Drawbacks : This technique should not be overused or the child will learn that misbehaving is a way to get presents. This should only be used if everything else fails and no more than twice in one childhood. Also, you should never bluff, if your child has broken her promise, she should lose her prize.
- New Year’s Resolutions : Hold a New Year’s Resolutions with your children and review it midsummer to see how you have done. Build on your strengths to build positive accomplishments.
Meaning & Purpose
The good life consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths everyday in the main realms of living. The meaningful life adds one more component : using these same strengths to forward knowledge, power, or goodness.