One of the founders of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman has a new book that released April, 2011. Flourish: A New Theory of Positive Psychology.
I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I thought I’d pass on some preliminary summary excerpts. Surprisingly, a while after I had titled my book flourish, the cover was done and already posted on Amazon, I noticed that Dr. Seligman’s new book title was also going to be Flourish. If you have read my book flourish, you know that I take a faith-based flourishing approach, referencing spiritual formation as well as new discoveries in brain science and positive psychology.
Happiness Isn’t Enough
To keep you updated, here are some highlights regarding the burgeoning growth and outcomes of research and theory in this new release.
- A new positive psychology has developed a new well-being theory. When Dr. Seligman began his work in Positive Psychology and wrote Authentic Happiness, his original view was closest to Aristotle’s. That everything we do is to make us happy. However, this didn’t completely capture Dr. Seligman’s original intentions.
Thales thought that everything was water.
Aristotle thought that all human action was to achieve happiness.
Nietzsche thought that all human action was to get power.
Freud thought that all human action was to avoid anxiety.
These were all mistakes of monism – in which all human motives come down to just one. The new theory of well- being has several contributing elements that are not monism.
- Positive Psychology is no longer just about happiness or the quest for increasing life satisfaction. After years of research, Seligman has now developed a well-being theory and the gold standard of measuring well-being is flourishing.
- The goal of positive psychology is to increase well-being and human flourishing which has five basic fundamental elements – PERMA. Positive emotion. Engagement. Relationships. Meaning. Accomplishment.
- The new theory of well-being states that to flourish in well-being we need and want more than (P) positive emotion alone: we want more (E) engagement in our work, friendships, and love; we want better human (R) relationships; we want more (M) meaning and purpose in life; we want to be moving towards our goals – (A) achievement.
It’s about Other People
I was particularly taken by the new emphasis on relationships and this story in chapter one.
“Near the Portuguese island of Madeira, there lies a small island shaped like an enormous cylinder. At the top is a several-acre plateau on which are grown the most prized grapes that go into Madeira wine. On this plateau lives only one large animal: an ox whose job is to plow the field. There is only one way up to the top, a winding and narrow path. How in the world does a new ox get up there when the old ox dies? A baby ox is carried on the back of a worker up the mountain, where it spends the next forty years plowing the field alone. If you are moved by this story, ask yourself why.”
Very little that is positive is solitary. Most of our most joyful, meaningful experiences are around other people. One of the founders of positive psychology, Christopher Peterson says that positive psychology is ultimately about ‘other people’. In a previous blog I quoted an old South African saying: “A person becomes a person through other persons”. We flourish in the presence of God and one another. Other people are the best antidotes to the downs of life and the single most reliable up. Studies of the big emotional brain and other studies are persuasive that being connected in positive relationships is a basic element of well-being. Although we instinctively know this is true, I think this is a great verifying contribution to the science of well-being and human flourishing.
Question: What is your response to the new science of human flourishing and the importance of ‘other people’?