Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Authentic Happiness: Does learned optimism lengthen someone's life?

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting FulfillmentAuthentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin E.P. Seligman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book took me awhile to get through, but I finally finished it.

Seligman is a psychologist who has pioneered the ideas of "learned optimism" and "positive psychology" (trying to improve people's lives) as opposed to the typical focus on negative psychology (trying to fix people's lives).

The book starts out with a happiness and longevity study done on which the nuns were asked to write a short sketch of their lives early in their vocations. The study found that the more optimistic, upbeat nuns were much more likely to live longer.

Seligman writes about his own progression toward positive psychology and the way he's observed it working in his own life and family, and backs it up with research where applicable.

He discusses optimism and happiness in life, love, parenting, and career. He offers some very practical ideas on raising children, which I appreciated. He shares these eight techniques for building positive emotion with children (read the book for more information):

1. Sleeping with your baby (to help form a secure attachment)

2. Synchrony games and toys (responding to what the baby does)

3. No and yes (try to reserve "no" for the really critical times)

4. Praise and punishment (praise and punish selectively)

5. Sibling rivalry (ways to address it)

6. Bedtime nuggets (ideas for making bedtime meaningful)

7. Making a deal (a creative solution for parenting challenges)

8. New Year's resolutions (making family resolutions, phrased positively)

A central piece of the book, and the reason I was drawn to it, is his "Signature Strengths Survey," which can be taken at Seligman's web site. Each person has five signature strengths, and he recommends making use of them in your life.

The reasons I have not given the book more stars are (1) I was hoping that he would do more with the signature strengths idea, and (2) the book jumps around quite a bit and it didn't seem woven together very well. This can often be a problem with this type of nonfiction. Consequently, I found myself leaving the book and coming back to it later.

All in all, some interesting concepts and ideas...and I agree with Seligman that the field of psychology could benefit from focusing more on enriching lives by promoting happiness and optimism (since studies show these things help us to live longer and have more meaningful lives). But it could have been packaged more effectively to better hold my attention.

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