Book Summary of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being,
My favorite Positive Psychology book is Flourish by Dr. Martin Seligman. For many years I have been a fan of Seligman, a psychologist and founder of Positive Psychology. I was thrilled in 2009 to attend the first World Congress on Positive Psychology in Philadelphia. Yes, I met him, shook his hand, and even asked him to read and endorse one of my books. That didn’t pan out, but I remain a student of his work.
I have read his books Learned Optimism, What You Can Change and What You Can’t, and Authentic Happiness. When Seligman released Flourish, I asked, “What more did he have to say?” The answer was plenty! Seligman is a researcher, questioner, and thinker. I appreciate that he is willing to re-think his research findings, theories, and positioning.
Overview of Flourish
First, Seligman explains that he was never satisfied with the perception that was created by focusing on the word happiness in his popular book, Authentic Happiness. He has shifted his focus from the state of happiness to emphasize the importance of flourishing and well-being. In Flourish Seligman presents the acronym PERMA.
P – Positive Emotions – feeling love, joy, and pleasure.
E – Engagement–being in flow and focused on our activities.
R – Relationships – having healthy, supportive, and rewarding connections with others.
M – Meaning – giving significance to the events in our lives.
A – Accomplishments – attaining goals that support our core values.
Basic Concepts of Flourish
Seligman explores the concepts of self-esteem, optimism, vitality, self-determination and my main interest, resilience. Within the topic of resilience, he describes a process for mental toughness, as well as the elements of Post Traumatic Growth, a most unusual but powerful concept.
Seligman describes the positivity research findings of his colleague, Barbara Fredrickson. She discovered: “Companies with better than a 2.9 ratio for positive to negative statements are flourishing.” He also refers to marriage expert, John Gottman, who discovered that couples who use a ratio of five positive comments to one negative were in healthy and long-lasting relationships.
Seligman includes the effective use of his VIA Character Strengths. Anyone and everyone can take Seligman’s FREE 240 question VIA Character Strengths inventory.
Included in the test are many quick lists and quizzes including checking your physical, emotional, social, and spiritual fitness.
Sprinkled throughout the book are exercises to develop and strengthen well-being. They include:
- Kindness: Do one unexpected act of kindness such as paying for someone’s parking meter and then notice how you feel.
- Gratitude Visit: After writing a letter of gratitude to someone who has done something significant for you, deliver it to read it face-to-face.
- Three Blessings: Before going to bed each night for a week write down three experiences that happened that day that went well.
- Forgiveness Letter: Write a letter delving into how you were wounded and your related feelings, ending with a commitment to forgive.
- Optimism: List three doors that were closed (losses) and then list what doors opened.
10 Martin Seligman Quotes
- “I don’t mind being wrong, and I don’t mind changing my mind.”
- “When we take time to notice the things that go right – it means we’re getting a lot of little rewards throughout the day.”
- “We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well.”
- “The more friends and the more love in your life, the less illness.”
- “If we just wanted positive emotions, our species would have died out a long time ago.”
- “Merciless criticism often makes us dig in our heels in defense, or worse, makes us helpless. We don’t change. We do change, however, when we discover what is best about ourselves and when we see specific ways to use our strengths more.”
- “Optimists take action and have healthier lifestyles. Optimists believe that their actions matter, whereas pessimists believe they are helpless and nothing they do will matter. Optimists try, while pessimists lapse into passive helplessness.”
- “There are some things we care about instinctively: water, food, shelter, sex. But most of what we care about is learned.”
- if you feel gratitude, it means you think that someone has just demonstrated that he or she cares about you as a person and will be there for you in the future. Gratitude marks opportunities to solidify relationships with people who seem to care.
- “A calling . . . is done for its own sake. You would do it anyway, with no pay and no promotions. “Try to stop me!” is what your heart cries when you are thwarted.”
In this work, Seligman covers a lot of territories describing the use of Positive Psychology to enhance people’s lives within marriage, education, corporations, and the armed services. His research and process help us flourish, build resilience, and achieve a state of well-being.