Flourish Book Summary


Martin Seligman revised his authentic happiness theory, which was based on positive emotions, engagement and meaning. New theory of flourishing is built upon positive emotions, accomplishment, positive relationship, meaning and engagement, which all constitute the foundation of positive psychology. Each element contributes to well-being, but doesn’t not define well-being.

Aristotle thought that all human action was to achieve happiness, Nietxsche – get power, Freud – avoid anxiety, Thales -everything is water, Seligman – wellbeing.

The main reasons for revision are:

  1. The dominant popular connotation of happiness is related to cheerful mood, but not all people strive to be cheerful.
  2. Life satisfaction holds too privileged a place in measurement of happiness. It turns out that life satisfaction does not take into account how much meaning we have or how engaged we are with the people we love or how engaged we are in our work. Life satisfaction essentially measures cheerful mood, so it is not entitled to a central place in wellbeing theory, that aims to be more than a happiology.
  3. Positive emotion, engagement and meaning do not exhaust the elements that people choose for their own sake. What you choose must serve no other master. Senia (Seligman’s student) asserted that many people live to achieve, just for achievement sake.

Relationship, meaning and accomplishment have both objective and subjective components: not just how you feel about your relationship, but how these people feel about you, not just your sense of meaning (you could be deluded), but the degree to which you actually serve something larger than you are, not just your pride in what you have done, but whether you actually met your goals, and where this goals stand in their impact on the people you care about and on the world.

If people cared about not only their own happiness, but happiness of others, which would be part of their objective wellbeing, we would not have greedy financial executives, who are responsible for recent financial downturn. It comes to ethics versus your own values. Seligman says that happiness, like GDP, is inadequate in measuring wellbeing. It is a subjective target.

The most interesting things I learned from the book:

Styles of responding: from active constructive, passive constructive, passive destructive to active destructive. Practice writing down your own response for the next time you have to interact with others and analyze it, create an active constructive one. Then use it. You just need to make it a habit.

Losada effect: you should have 3 times more positive thoughts than negative. To achieve it, use positive psychology techniques, including Love letter, gratitude journal, etc. Find your signature strengths and set goals, or invent activities to practice them, write about your experience.

Reasons why optimists are less vulnerable to disease: Optimists take action and have healthier lifestyles. Optimists believe that their actions matter, whereas pessimist believe they are helpless and nothing they do will matter. Optimists try while pessimist lapse into passive helplessness. Optimist use more social support. Optimists have a better response to repeated stress. Become an optimist!

Variety of programs are designed and already being used to help people balance their life with flow, meaning and pleasantries. Original Penn Resiliency program is one of them. It was later modified to work for school children (The Geelong Grammar School Project). It would be great if all schools offered it. Special program was created for US Army soldiers: Comprehensive soldier training/fitness; Global Assessment tool (GAT) has four sections: Emotional fitness module, Social fitness, Family fitness, Spiritual fitness, and the main component of the program is Turning trauma into growth.

Overview of Positive Psychology Training (14 sessions): Identify your strengths and illustrate how they are used in your life. You can complete VIA questionnaire online to identify character strengths. Start a blessing journal, in which you write, every night, three good things that happened that day. Understand the role of good and bad memories in maintaining depression/unhappiness. Write about feelings of anger and bitterness and how they feed your depression. Write a forgiveness letter describing a transgression and related emotions and pledges to forgive the transgressor (only if appropriate) but don’t not deliver the letter. Write a gratitude letter to someone you never properly thanked for and deliver it in person. Understand terms satisficers and maximizers, find ways to increase satisficing and devise a personal satisficing plan. Use optimistic style – to see bad events as temporary, changeable and local. Recognize character strengths of significant others, ask family members take VIA questionnaire online and then draw a tree that includes the character strengths of all members of the family. Learn savoring as a technique to increase the intensity and duration of positive emotion. Give the gift of time by doing something that requires a fair amount of time and calls on your character strengths. Make sure you know how to have full life integrating pleasure, engagement and meaning.

Martin Seligman went to his 50th school reunion and gave two pieces of advice to his former classmates:

  1. Be future oriented, not dwell on the past, work for your ideals.
  2. Exercise.
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