Wednesday, December 23, 2015
By Ben Nadel on
As a therapist, Martin Seligman (former president of the American Psychological Association - APA) discovered something very interesting: if you remove the unhappiness from a patient, you don't get a happy patient; rather, you get an empty patient. This is a huge cause for concern because psychology has, for a long time, focused primarily on removing unhappiness (the traditional Disease Model of treatment). To address this problem, Martin Seligman founded the Positive Psychology movement. As outlined in his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Seligman believes that true well-being emerges not only from the removal of unhappiness; but, from the enhancement of five elements of well-being: P.E.R.M.A.
Happiness is a "concept." It is a state of being defined by other things. As such, it is nice to talk about, but somewhat useless when it comes to measurements and actions. We don't obtain happiness; rather, we seek the elements that allow happiness to ensue. And, according to Martin Seligman, the five key elements behind happiness and well-being are P.E.R.M.A:
- Positive emotions
The more we nurture these five elements, the more fulfilled our lives will be. And, what's important to understand is that these five elements work in fluid conjunction with each other. While some elements appear to carry more weight, this means that different individuals can find different paths to happiness; a person who spends their life highly engaged can feel just as much happiness as a person who believes that their life has a higher meaning and purpose.
While I found some of this book a bit tedious to get through, I was a big fan of a few of the exercises that Seligman discussed:
- What Went Well: At the end of the day, write down three things that went well during the day. Also discuss why those things happened and how they can happen more often.
- Active and Constructive Responding: When someone tells you something positive about their own life, respond in a way that gets them to relive that positive moment with you.
- Gratitude Letter: Think of someone who has improved your life and then write them a letter of thanks. This letter can then be read out loud to said person.
Each of these exercises is meant to enhance the various elements of P.E.R.M.A., and therefore well-being. And, as Seligman discusses in the book, these exercises can be even be highly effective in the treatment of depression.
One other thing that I found hugely fascinating was that in a review of many longitudinal health studies, Optimism appears to be the most consistent predicator of mortality. Now, that's not to say that health is irrelevant; rather, it just means that true optimism and feelings of well-being have a more consistent effect on mortality than any other indicator.
If any of this seems interesting, you might want to check out Martin Seligman's TED Talk on Positive Psychology. I got this book after being intrigued by his presentation:
I think one of the best take-aways from this book is the codification of happiness in terms of the five basic elements of well-being. Too often, we talk about happiness purely as a concept; and I believe this leaves many people still confused about what to do and how to get there. By looking at P.E.R.M.A. as the building blocks, we can give people a concrete model - a tangible way to think about their own flourishing.
Saturday, December 19, 2015
Post by Scott Crabtree
Martin Seligman helped launch positive psychology. In Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, he redefines it. The book is important, and strongly recommended for anyone interested in deeply understanding positive psychology. That said, it is not a self-help book, and may not be terribly useful to the average person who wants to be flourishing more in life!
For years, positive psychology was essentially equated to the science of happiness. Scientists have always preferred the term “subjective well-being” to get at the fact that it’s positive emotions but also life satisfaction. Seligman extends that definition using the acronym PERMA:
Meaning and purpose in life
Like any good mental model, I find this one useful and, at the same time, incomplete. Are these really the key components to flourishing in life? What about health? But despite PERMA’s imperfections, it’s a memorable way to extend our concept of positive psychology. It’s not just about happiness, it’s really about thriving in life.
Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being is an important contribution to an important field. It describes the work that Seligman has led with the US Army’s resilience program, the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program that he leads at the University of Pennsylvania, and more. If you are intrigued by the history and future of positive psychology, I highly recommend Flourish. If you want practical suggestions for being happier at work and in life, I think you can do better with other books.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
“This book will help you flourish.” Review by Simon and Schuster.
With this unprecedented promise, internationally esteemed psychologist Martin Seligman begins Flourish, his first book in ten years—and the first to present his dynamic new concept of what well-being really is. Traditionally, the goal of psychology has been to relieve human suffering, but the goal of the Positive Psychology movement, which Dr. Seligman has led for fifteen years, is different—it’s about actually raising the bar for the human condition.
Flourish builds on Dr. Seligman’s game-changing work on optimism, motivation, and character to show how to get the most out of life, unveiling an electrifying new theory of what makes a good life—for individuals, for communities, and for nations. In a fascinating evolution of thought and practice, Flourish refines what Positive Psychology is all about.
While certainly a part of well-being, happiness alone doesn’t give life meaning. Seligman now asks, What is it that enables you to cultivate your talents, to build deep, lasting relationships with others, to feel pleasure, and to contribute meaningfully to the world? In a word, what is it that allows you to flourish? “Well-being” takes the stage front and center, and Happiness (or Positive Emotion) becomes one of the five pillars of Positive Psychology, along with Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment—orPERMA, the permanent building blocks for a life of profound fulfillment.
Thought-provoking in its implications for education, economics, therapy, medicine, and public policy—the very fabric of society—Flourish tells inspiring stories of Positive Psychology in action, including how the entire U.S. Army is now trained in emotional resilience; how innovative schools can educate for fulfillment in life and not just for workplace success; and how corporations can improve performance at the same time as they raise employee well-being.
With interactive exercises to help readers explore their own attitudes and aims, Flourish is a watershed in the understanding of happiness as well as a tool for getting the most out of life. On the cutting edge of a science that has changed millions of lives, Dr. Seligman now creates the ultimate extension and capstone of his bestselling classics, Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Guest post by Connie Davis
In my continuing quest to understand human behavior, I’ve become interested in positive psychology. It started when a classmate of my daughter’s posted this video to Facebook. It introduced me to two very interesting things. TED and Positive Psychology, both of which are worth exploring.
Martin Seligman had the same idea as the MacArthur Foundation’s Successful Aging project: instead of studying the problems, let’s study what is working and see if you can teach that to others. Flourish is Seligman’s update to his first book, Authentic Happiness. His idea has grown from promoting happiness to helping people flourish. I’ve also been reading about strengths based therapeutic approaches, a familiar concept in geriatrics, where it is thought of in a more functional way..
Here is a brief tour of the book. The first chapter describes well-being and its growth from Seligman’s original ideas about happiness. Readers are introduced to techniques that are used to create happiness, such as the gratitude visit, what-went-well and understanding personal strengths. (my top three are Curiosity and Intellect, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence and Love of Learning. Sounds spot on. Among my lowest strengths are Caution/Prudence/Discretion (yes, I do go hiking alone and sometimes make decisions too fast), and Citizenship/Teamwork/Loyalty (hence the recent purchase of two books on teamwork and two community meetings to volunteer for local causes).
The book goes on to cover the effectiveness of medications for mood and then begins a tour of ways to apply positive psychology. Education, the Army and physical health are covered. Of course one of my interests is in physical health but I see the possibility of introducing positive psychology in education and hope that these approaches may be an antidote to historical trauma and adverse childhood events. The book closes with a chapter of the politics and economics of well-being.
I’ve signed up for studies through the U Penn program and read the research with interest. As I was reading Flourish, I completed some of the questionnaires and exercises to improve well-being. I haven’t quite developed some of the techniques into habits, but I see potential.
I’m very curious about positive psychology in health care and hope to learn more!