Author: Martin E. P. Seligman (Bio)
Note: I find these books so are so related that I am putting them together as one post. Some of these ideas have made a huge difference in how I see “happiness” and “well-being”. Seligman argues his cases with a thoroughness I rarely find in these sorts of books. I enjoyed both of these a lot, however more eager readers might want to skip over the “making the case” parts and get to the conclusions.
My opinion of these books: Real science from the father of Positive Psychology. Great insights, studies, and models of what makes people happy.
Flourish offers a new model for understanding what “happiness” is and why we ought call it “Flourishing” (turns out, not everything that makes us happy is fun).
Learned Optimism shows the difference between pessimists and optimists, both in beliefs and the impact it has on their lives. He shows the science of how people have become more optimistic and the simple steps that anyone can take to improve their own optimism and sense of well-being.
Should You Read These Books?
If you have these challenges:
You want to feel better emotionally or mentally (or even physically).
… then they might help you because:
They give you easy-to-use tools that can help you get to a better place. It also gives you a different framework for thinking about what “happiness” is which can help you better reflect on the big picture of your life.
But you might not want to read it if:
You’re steadfastly convinced you are who you are and can’t change.
What I Got Out Of These Books
Happiness vs Well-Being
There’s a difference between happiness and well-being. Happiness is just a part of it. His findings for what constitutes well-being are: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. You should absolutely read “Flourish” to learn more about this, but here’s a few highlights:
- Just doing “fun stuff” that elicits positive emotion (movies, parties, spas, vacations, etc) likely won’t make you happy. Some people keep trying to “relax” more or “do more fun things” to get happier but it doesn’t work. That’s because there are other components to feeling good.
- Humans get well-being from taking on challenges, sometimes for no other reason than the challenge itself and the challenge might not even be fun to do.
- “Other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single-most reliable up”
- Gratitude is a “silver bullet” that helps in more mental, emotional, and physical ways than I can list here.
The What Went Well Exercise
The “What Went Well” exercise, aka “Three Good Things” is a simple daily exercise that I do (most days) and it works. It helps me in ways that he doesn’t even go into. Basically, you think of three good things that happened to you, think about what was good about each of them, and then ask yourself why they happened. Theis reflection draws your attention to the actions that created them, putting them more front of mind for when you have future decisions to make.
People who have “learned helplessness” see bad situations and react “It’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything, and there’s nothing I can do about it” and that people who have learned optimism respond with “It’s going away quickly, I can do something about it, and it’s just this one situation.”
Checking myself in hard times and asking “ok, which one of these perspectives am I having? Which one do I want to have?” is very valuable.
It’s one of those things that once you read you can’t help but start seeing people choosing one or the other. You want to just shout at people who say things like “why does this always happen to me” or “this ruins everything”.
Most people know of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He talks also of Post-Traumatic Growth, a sort of “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” phenomena. While this isn’t something I use on a daily basis (thank goodness), it does help give perspective in harder times. Reminding myself that it’s bad now but on the other side of the bad times I will be stronger and be able to better deal with similar challenges in the future is comforting.
There’s loads more in these books and I encourage you to read them both.