Book Review

I recently read ‘Flourishing’ (2011) by Martin Seligman, one of the founders of ‘positive psychology’, which in my view shares some aspects in common with the recovery ethos, such as the fostering of hope and focus on strengths rather than disability.

The initial pages focus on elements of ‘well-being’ as distinct from ‘happiness’, the former emphasizing meaningful relationships as opposed to the passing moods of the latter. Seligman also looks at the contributors to achievement and proposes that grit and character are central to this. Seligman points out that previous thinkers like Freud believed mental health was merely an absence of illness. Instead, positive psychology focuses on the presence of positive emotion, the presence of meaning and good relationships.

Seligman draws on a number of studies to illustrate themes such as the effect of optimism on physical health and  the affect of affluence on sense of well-being.

Although positive psychology has had its critics, most notably Barbara Ehrenreich, who criticised it for being unrealistic, it is ultimately convincing and if it can improve peoples’ lives even slightly then it’s worth pursuing.

This book proved a stimulating read, though it may work as a refinement of Seligman’s previous work and may not serve as the best introduction to the field,

‘Learned Optimism’ or ‘Authentic Happiness’ being more useful primers.

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