A book review by Nancy Laytham-Jorgensen Dr. Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness

Do you believe that happiness is something that just “happens” to you? That something good needs to happen to you, to make you happy?

Dr. Martin Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology, to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, provides evidence that we can make a difference in our own life and increase our own happiness. It was the first consumer book on this new science and although many other positive psychology books have been published since, I continue to consider this the most valid.

A pioneer in his field, Seligman practices at the University of Pennsylvania. When he took over as president of the American Psychological Society (APA) in the 1990s, psychology was focused solely on mental illness, depression and what made us Unhappy. Seligman challenged psychologists in universities all over the world to start studying what made people happy, thrive and grow. The new field of ‘positive psychology’ was born.

Within a few short years, scientific studies were published and the proof was presented. Happiness and optimism are under our control. They are a necessary element in the foundation of a long, satisfying, happy and healthy life.

Seligman states that our happiness is not just a mood, but a way of experiencing and believing. It offers us optimism and strength, and increases our “self-efficacy.”

Seligman does not believe that wealth is a guarantee for personal happiness. And research supports this–many wealthy people are not happy.

One of the enemies of happiness is “taking things for granted.” This common behavior continually raises the bar for what we need to achieve happiness. Remember how exciting it was to take your first airplane ride? Now it is routine and to get
back that initial thrill of flying, we go sky diving or hand gliding.

Showing appreciation for what we have may be a factor in building our own happiness. Seligman identifies other factors that support happiness including forgiveness and an optimistic view of the world and our lives. Positive psychology is centered on the present, letting go of the past and moving forward. This redirects energy that was bound up in past sadness and focuses that energy on enjoying the present.

Happiness is in the here and now. To many philosophers, ‘now’ is all we have. This means accepting and savoring the simple pleasures in life such as enjoying a meal, savoring the food and your dining partners.

Seligman and his colleagues found that “personal strengths” such as humor, perspective, enthusiasm, perseverance, kindness and self- control, enhance overall happiness. He refers to them as our “pillars of happiness.”

In his conclusion, Seligman states that “as we evolve and become more intelligent in our pursuit of happiness, the world will get better, because the greatest happiness for each of us depends on us all being happy. Where there is love and happiness, aggression, strife and war are absent. Happiness is our divine destiny.”

Nancy Laytham is a licensed and certified Health and Wellness Coach. Her certification is recognized by the ICF (Internal Federation of Coaches) and the American Academy of Sports Medicine. She previously enjoyed a career in pharmaceuticals before entering the coaching profession and has had a life-long passion for health and wellness. Her clients are those seeking to enhance their lives by improving their overall health and increasing their positivity and happiness. www.yourhealth-coach.com. [email protected].

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