I am currently reading a book about positive psychology called Flourish by Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology. I came across through a review of an essay collection, edited by John Brockman, called This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking. One of the concepts excerpted by reviewer Maria Popova was Seligman’s “PERMA” theory, which I found intriguing – enough to do some more research and then buy his latest book for my Kindle.
Science and public policy have traditionally been focused solely on remediating the disabling conditions, but PERMA suggests that this is insufficient. If we want global well-being, we should also measure and try to build PERMA. The very same principal seems to be true in your own life: if you wish to flourish personally, getting rid of depression, anxiety, and anger and getting rich is not enough, you also need to build PERMA directly.
Just FYI, PERMA stands for Positive emotions, Engagement, positive Relationships, Meaning and Achievement; which, according to Seligman, are the five pillars of wellbeing. The book is a self-help book to an extent, but it is very different from other self-help books that I have partially read (I can never seem to make it to the end of them…). The biggest difference is probably Seligman himself: he is not some self-help guru who has become famous through inspirational speeches about “taking CONTROL of your OWN life” or anything like that, he is a very highly respected professor of psychology at an Ivy League university and has been since before he started dabbling in positive psychology.
The result of this is a stark difference between Seligman and regular self-help gurus. For example, when Seligman claims that a certain technique improves wellbeing, he goes into extensive detail about the evidence for his claim, including not only personal anecdotes and case studies but actual randomised placebo-controlled psychological studies, which are referred to in his footnotes. There are other differences too – for instance, he has footnotes; and he considers actual policy implications of his theories; and he does not ever include sentences like:
“You can achieve AMAZING RESULTS in just ONE MONTH using the three-step system of Activation, Motivation and Vacation.”
i.e. His acronyms do not all sound like sales pitches and he uses capital letters the way God/The Queen intended.
One thing that I have gained from the book is the idea that I should encourage more positive emotions in things that I do. Looking over this blog since Saturday, I have written about:
- The growing popularity of armed intervention.
- The lack of technical literacy in homophobic British aristocrats.
- The little-reported war crimes trial of an African warlord who enslaved children.
- The Conservative argument for gay marriage and how this is being warped by the Catholic Church in America.
- Andrew Bolt attacking Bob Katter over a homophobic add.
- Rush Limbaugh losing sponsors for sexist comments and how Judaism interprets the contraception debate.
- How the Treasurer of my country seems like a paranoid conspiracist.
- How another African warlord is being turned into a perverse pop icon by people arguing one way or the other based on a stupid video or a stupid Tumblr and not bothering to actually learn anything about the guy in question.
Now, there is not a lot there that’s positive – even the things that are positive are because of something negative (i.e. positive results from Limbaugh’s abhorrent comments). As a result, I am now making a commitment to find at least one piece of good news for every two pieces of bad news, just to make Major Karnage a slightly happier place (hey, it’s a start).
So what’s the good news for today? Well, you just read it!
… nah, I’m not going to just cop-out like that. Here’s a baby reciting Shakespeare: