So many self-help books, questionnaires, and popular psychology books talk about what’s wrong with our lives and how to make the bad bits better. Martin E. P. Seligman asks us to look instead at what’s good, and learn to turn good into excellent, making this a book on mental wellness, rather than mental illness. It’s a refreshing change.
Wouldn’t you rather feel more happy instead of less miserable? But this isn’t just a question of looking at half-filled cups when they might be half-empty. Simple questionnaires (with more complicated versions online) invite the reader to find their own strengths so we can play to them. And then, in a nice twist on the “So this is who you are” approach, we’re asked to identify which strengths feel natural to us, which feel enlivening. We might be good at leading but feel drained every time we have to lead, making leadership a strength, but not a signature strength. Those final, happy, signature powers become the key to enlivening everyday life.
But first, are you happy? Not just smiling today, but waking up happy, contented, hopeful, optimistic. And what things will make us happy? The author has looked through many cultures to find those things common to most. Again, there’s a twist—he’s not looking for features valued in all; just in most, because there area always exceptions—that’s why they’re called exceptions. Religion becomes something of worth, though the author’s own “religious” beliefs, expounded in a final chapter, might not agree with his readers’. The answer’s not in the details but in the approach.
Raise happy children. Turn your job into something you enjoy (without necessarily changing jobs). Find your strengths and enjoy who you are instead of trying to turn into someone else. And enjoy this book. I did.
Disclosure: My sister-in-law lent me a copy of this book then I went out and bought my own.
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Sheila Deeth (SheilaDeeth)
Sheila Deeth's first novel, Divide by Zero, has just been released in print and ebook formats. Find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, etc. Her spiritual speculative novellas can be found at … more
In his latest user-friendly road map for human emotion, the author of the bestselling Learned Optimism proposes ratcheting the field of psychology to a new level. "Relieving the states that make life miserable... has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority. The time has finally arrived for a science that seeks to understand positive emotion, build strength and virtue, and provide guideposts for finding what Aristotle called the `good life,' " writes Seligman. Thankfully, his lengthy homage to happiness may actually live up to the ambitious promise of its subtitle. Seligman doesn't just preach the merits of happiness e.g., happy people are healthier, more productive and contentedly married than their unhappy counterparts but he also presents brief tests and even an interactive Web site (the launch date is set for mid-August) to help readers increase the happiness quotient in their own lives. Trying to fix weaknesses won't help, he says; rather, incorporating strengths such as humor, originality and generosity into everyday interactions with people is a better way to achieve happiness. Skeptics will wonder whether it's possible to learn happiness from a book. Their point may be valid, but Seligman certainly provides the attitude adjustment and practical tools (including self-tests and exercises) for charting the course. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.