“Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment” by Dr. Martin Seligman. This is a review by Rick Olson; the original review was published on March 18th, 2007 on http://peakeffectiveness.com/Positive%20Psychology/Authentic%20Happiness%20Summary.pdf however the domain-name expired and the file is no longer accessible.
This is basically a very condensed summary of Dr. Martin Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (2002) Happiness and well-being are the desired outcomes of Positive Psychology.The terms happiness and well-being are used interchangeably as overarching terms to describe the goals of the whole Positive Psychology enterprise, embracing both positive feelings (such as ecstasy and comfort) and positive activities that have no feeling component at all (such as absorption and engagement). It is important to recognize that “happiness” and “well-being” sometimes refer to feelings, but sometimes refer to activities in which nothing at all is felt.
• There are several routes to authentic happiness that are each very different.
• You can raise your positive emotion.
• A “happy” individual need not experience all or even most of the positive emotions and gratifications.
Because the ways of enhancing them differ, Seligman divides the positive emotions into three kinds: those directed toward the past, the future, or the present. It is entirely possible to cultivate any one of these separately from the others:
• Positive emotion about the past (satisfaction, contentment, pride, and serenity for examples) can be increased by gratitude, forgiveness, and freeing yourself of imprisoning deterministic ideology.
• Positive emotion about the future (optimism, hope, confidence, trust, and faith for examples) can be increased by learning to recognize and dispute automatic pessimistic thoughts.
• Positive emotion about the present divides into two very different things and this is the best example of radically different routes to happiness:
– pleasures are momentary, and they are defined by felt emotion. The pleasures are comprised of bodily pleasures (such as scrumptious-ness, warmth, and orgasm) The bodily pleasures are momentary positive emotions that come through the senses: delicious tastes and smells, sexual feelings, moving your body well, delightful sights and sounds. Higher pleasures (such as bliss, glee, and comfort). The higher pleasures are also momentary, set off by events more complicated and more learned than sensory ones, and they are defined by the feelings they bring about: ecstasy, rapture, thrill, bliss, gladness, mirth, glee, fun, ebullience, comfort, amusement, relaxation, and the like.
The pleasures of the present, like the positive emotions about the past and the future, are at rock bottom subjective feelings. The final judge is “whoever lives inside a person’s skin,” and a great deal of research has shown that the tests of these states (several of which appear in this book) can be rigorously measured. The measures of positive emotion are repeatable, stable across time, and consistent across situations—the tools of a respectable science. Pleasures can be increased by defeating the numbing effect of habituation, by savoring, and by mindfulness.
– gratifications are more abiding. They are characterized by absorption, engagement, and flow. Importantly, the absence—not the presence—of any felt positive emotion (or any self-consciousness at all) defines the gratifications. The gratifications are the other class of positive emotions about the present, but unlike the pleasures, they are not feelings but activities we like doing: reading, rock climbing, dancing, good conversation, volley-ball, or playing bridge, for example. The gratifications absorb and engage us fully; they block self-consciousness; they block felt emotion, except in retrospect (“Wow, that was fun!”); and they create flow, the state in which time stops and one feels completely at home. The gratifications come about through the exercise of your strengths and virtues. In fact, Seligman asserts that the gratifications cannot be obtained or permanently increased without developing personal strengths and virtues. Happiness, the goal of Positive Psychology, is not just about obtaining momentary subjective states. Happiness also includes the idea that one’s life has been authentic. This judgment is not merely subjective, and authenticity describes the act of deriving gratification and positive emotion from the exercise of one’s signature strengths. Signature strengths are the lasting and natural routes to gratification, and thus the route to “the good life”.
Part II of the book laid out the signature strengths. It also provided tests for you to identify your own signature strengths. Or, more conveniently, if you go to http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/questionnaires.aspx, you can take the VIA-IS strengths test to identify yours – free.
The twenty-four strengths are divided into six ubiquitous “virtues” clusters, as follows:
Wisdom and Knowledge
1. Curiosity/Interest in the World
2. Love of Learning
3. Judgment/Critical thinking/Open-Mindedness
4. Ingenuity/Originality/Practical intelligence/Street Smarts
5. Social intelligence/Personal Intelligence/Emotional Intelligence
7. Valor and Bravery
Humanity and Love
10. Kindness and Generosity
11. Loving and Allowing Oneself to Be Loved
13. Fairness and Equity
17. Humility and Modesty
18. Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
21. Spirituality/Sense of Purpose/Faith/Religiousness
22. Forgiveness and Mercy
23. Playfulness and Humor
Your highest strengths are your signature strengths. Seligman’s Definitions for finding meaning and purpose in living:
The pleasant life is successfully maximizing positive emotions about the present, past, and future, supplemented by the skills of amplifying these emotions.
The good life consists in using your signature strengths as frequently as possible in the important realms in your life to obtain authentic happiness and abundant gratification – in contrast with the pleasant life, which is about maximizing positive emotion. The meaningful life has one additional feature to the good life: using your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something larger than you are.
A full life is to live all three lives – experiencing positive emotions about the past, present and future, savoring positive feelings from the pleasures, deriving abundant gratification from your signature strengths, and using these strengths in the service of something larger to obtain meaning.
Happiness comes by many routes. Our life task is to deploy our signature strengths and virtues in the major realms of living: work, love, parenting, and finding purpose. Positive psychology is about experiencing your present, past, and future optimally, about discovering your signature strengths, and then about using them often in all endeavors that you value. A “happy” individual need not experience all or even most of the positive emotions and gratifications.