Monday, November 7, 2011

New spin from Flourish, A Visionary New Understanding of Well-Being by Martin Seligman

As I mentioned in Nov. 4th post, Seligman is the "father" of positive psychology. His early book, Learned Optimism was an outstanding book which focused on getting rid of negative self-talk and learning to NOT be a pessimist. Why? Because optimists are healthier, live longer, are happier etc. Somehow the learned optimism concept morphed into a different concept and later book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.

Now after decades of the overly positive thinking hype, Seligman has come up with new thinking, or perhaps a new spin on former thinking, that makes much more sense.

Here are some quotes/ideas put forth in the book:

Happiness (or Positive Emotion) is now one of five pillars of Well-Being along with Engagement, Relationship, Meaning, and Accomplishment. PERMA, is the acronym of the permanent building blocks for a life of profound fulfillment. With this concept Seligman moves away from the power of positive thinking, toward more realistic and well-respected, researched beliefs about what else is required for well being in addition to positive thinking and optimism. Whew!

I was surprised to see many negative references to Barbara Ehrenreich's 2009 book, Bright-Sided, which criticized the positive thinking cult. But, I guess turn about is fair play!?  They have extremely differing views on reality. Seligman sees reality as reflexive or nonreflexive, meaning influenced by perceptions and expectations and not influenced by perceptions and expectations. A stock price is a reflexive reflexive. A rejection of an offer of marriage is a nonreflexive reality. I didn't get it. Ehrenreich talks about cultivating realism as smart thinking and as an antidote to both overly negative or positive thinking. I liked her thoughts.

I'm not sure what the take-away would be for intelligent readers. The more I read, the more confusing the message, the greater the obfuscation about the purpose of the book. Maybe it'll be good news that you don't have to be happy all the time. That you can be occasionally grumpy or even pessimistic and tell everybody who criticizes you that they should read Flourish and understand that the old overly positive thinking thing is OUT, untrendy, even embarrassing.  Seligman, psychologist, professor at the U. of Pennsylvania, past president of the American Psychological Association even says on p. 13-14 of Flourish that there are three inadequacies in the old positive psychology/authentic happiness theory.

• Cheerful mood is overemphasized and demanded by the theory.
• Positive psychology is too tied to mood as a measure of life satisfaction.
• Life satisfaction is very different for different people. Not everyone connects cheeriness with happiness and life satisfaction.

No kidding? I'm feeling pretty grumpy about Flourish.
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