Brain Pickings

Flourish: The Father of Positive Psychology Redefines Well-Being

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Back in the day, I had the pleasure of studying in a department graced by Dr. Martin Seligman, father of the thriving positive psychology movement — a potent antidote to the traditional “disease model” of psychology, which focuses on how to relieve suffering rather than how to amplify well-being. His seminal book, Authentic Happiness, was among the 7 essential books on the art and science of happiness, and today marks the release of his highly anticipated follow-up. Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (public library) is rather radical departure from Seligman’s prior conception of happiness, which he now frames as overly simplistic and inferior to the higher ideal of lasting well-being.

Flourish is definitely not a self-help book, though it does offer insightful techniques to optimize yourself, your relationships and your business for well-being. If anything, it can read a bit wonky at times, as Seligman delves into fascinating empirical evidence culled from years of rigorous research. But I find this remarkably refreshing and stimulating amidst the sea of dumbed down psycho-fluff.

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.'” ~ Martin Seligman

Seligman identifies five endeavors crucial to human flourishing — positive emotion, engagement, good relationships, meaning and purpose in life, and accomplishment, cumulatively called PERMA — and examines each in detail, ultimately proposing that public policy have flourishing as its central goal.

The content itself — happiness, flow, meaning, love, gratitude, accomplishment, growth, better relationships — constitutes human flourishing. Learning that you can have more of these things is life changing. Glimpsing the vision of a flourishing human future is life changing.” ~ Martin Seligman

Seligman’s work over the years has taken him inside the brains of British lords, Australian school kids, billionaire philanthropists, Army generals, artists, educators, scientists and countless more of humanity’s most interesting and inspired specimens. The insights gleaned from these clinical cases are both sage and surprising, inviting you to look at the pillars of your own happiness with new eyes.

Though more closely related to his older work, this excellent 2004 TED talk is still a fantastic primer for the broader umbrella concept of positive psychology and thus very much representative of the fundamental thinking in Flourish.

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