Positive Psychology

How To Be Happy in the Guardian on Thursday tells the story of the “positive psychologists” who have been meeting at the Royal Society to discuss “the science of well-being”.

Leading light of this movement is Martin Seligman who is quoted in the article thus:

I used to think that all you had to do to get a happy person was get rid of the negatives in their life, but if that’s all you do, you don’t get a happy person, you get an empty person. You need the positives too

The article goes on with more of Seligman’s views:

He believes there are three routes to happiness, which he calls the “pleasant life”, the “good life” and the “meaningful life”. Some are better than others, although a mix of all three is ideal.

The pleasant life sees superficial pleasures as the key to happiness, and it is this that many people mistakenly pursue, he says. “The biggest mistake that people in the rich west make is to be enchanted with the Hollywood idea of happiness, which is really just giggling and smiling a lot,” he says. While a life bent on instant pleasure and gratification offers some degree of happiness, it is ultimately unsatisfying on its own, he says.

Money, it turns out, isn’t the answer either. Seligman believes that once we have enough to pay for life’s basics such as food and a roof over our heads, more money adds little to our happiness.

Seligman identifies signature strengths as keys to the good and meaningful life – applying these signature strengths to our lives leads to an increasing sense of flow – what he calls “the good life” – whilst he suggests that applying them to help others adds meaning to our lives.

There is (of course) a book and a website – the site allows you to take the quizzes in the book, in particular to identify your own signature strengths

Having filled in the quiz, it identifies my signature strengths as: (full results in extended entry)

  • Love of learning
  • Creativity, ingenuity, and originality
  • Curiosity and interest in the world
  • Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
  • Perspective (wisdom)

All of which feel like a good fit to the things I enjoy, and when applied to work an equally good fit to the things I do well. So on this sample of one it makes sense!

Finally, is it scientific? There are critics who say the approach is not research-based. The last word belongs to Seligman:

If it’s not backed up by good scientific data, it will collapse like a house of cards, and it will deserve to

These were the results I got from the VIA Signature Strengths Survey at authentichappiness.org:

Top StrengthThis is a Signature Strength for you.
Date: November 22, 2003
Love of learning   You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

On this strength, you scored as high as or higher than . . .

97% of all Web site users

97% of all male respondents

97% of all 35 to 44 years old

96% of occupation group MG

97% of all with Bachelors degrees

97% of those living outside US

Second Strength

This is a Signature Strength for you.

Date: November 22, 2003

 

Creativity, ingenuity, and originality   Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.

On this strength, you scored as high as or higher than . . .

89% of all Web site users

85% of all male respondents

89% of all 35 to 44 years old

89% of occupation group MG

90% of all with Bachelors degrees

89% of those living outside US

Third Strength

This is a Signature Strength for you.

Date: November 22, 2003

 

Curiosity and interest in the world   You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.

On this strength, you scored as high as or higher than . . .

87% of all Web site users

88% of all male respondents

88% of all 35 to 44 years old

85% of occupation group MG

88% of all with Bachelors degrees

88% of those living outside US

Fourth Strength

This is a Signature Strength for you.

Date: November 22, 2003

 

Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness   Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.

On this strength, you scored as high as or higher than . . .

86% of all Web site users

85% of all male respondents

86% of all 35 to 44 years old

85% of occupation group MG

87% of all with Bachelors degrees

87% of those living outside US

Fifth Strength

This is a Signature Strength for you.

Date: November 22, 2003

 

Perspective (wisdom)   Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your perspective on matters and turn to you for advice. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself.

On this strength, you scored as high as or higher than . . .

92% of all Web site users

92% of all male respondents

93% of all 35 to 44 years old

92% of occupation group MG

94% of all with Bachelors degrees

93% of those living outside US

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Julian Elve
Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change

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