Seligman's Authentic Happiness: Parts I & II

I’ve read Parts I (Positive Emotion) & II (Strengths & Virtue) of Martin E. P. Seligman‘s Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment and I love it!

As I mentioned earlier, the basic concepts are not new to me but it’s how Seligman uses science and research that makes this book worth reading!

Here are some of the book’s main ideas:

Based on analysis of some two hundred virtue catalogs — including Aristotle and Plato, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, the Old Testament, Confucius, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Bushido (the samurai code), the Koran, Benjamin Franklin, and the Upanishads — the world’s cultures share twenty-four strengths that can be categorized into six core virtues:

Wisdom and knowledge

  • Curiosity/Interest in the world
  • Love of learning
  • Judgment/Critical Thinking/Open-Mindedness
  • Ingenuity/Originality/Practical Intelligence/Street Smarts
  • Social intelligence/Personal Intelligence/Emotional Intelligence
  • Perspective


  • Valor and Bravery
  • Perseverance/Industry/Diligence
  • Integrity/Genuineness/Honesty

Love and humanity

  • Kindness and Generosity
  • Loving and allowing oneself to be loved


  • Citizenship/Duty/Teamwork/Loyalty
  • Fairness and Equity
  • Leadership


  • Self-control
  • Prudence/Discretion/Caution
  • Humility and Modesty

Spirituality and transcendence:

  • Appreciation of beauty and excellence
  • Gratitude
  • Hope/Optimism/Future-Mindedness
  • Spirituality/Sense of Purpose/Faith/Religiousness
  • Forgiveness and Mercy
  • Playfulness and Humor
  • Zest/Passion/Enthusiasm

Seligman believes that we each possess several signature strengths and that using your signature strengths every day in your life will bring abundant gratification (distinct from pleasures) and authentic happiness.

Seligman defines pleasures as “delights that have clear sensory and strong emotional components, what philosophers call ‘raw feels’: ecstasy, thrills, orgasm, delight, mirth, exuberance, and comfort” and gratifications as “activities we very much like doing…[that] engage us fully, we become immersed and absorbed in them, and we lose self-consciousness…[and] they last longer…they involve quite a lot of thinking and interpretation, they do not habituate easily and they are undergirded by our strengths and virtues.”

The pleasures can be categorized as follows:

  • high-intensity: rapture, bliss, ecstasy, thrill, hilarity, euphoria, kick, buzz, elation, and excitement
  • moderate-intensity: ebullience, sparkle, vigor, glee, mirth, gladness, good cheer, enthusiasm, attraction, and fun
  • low-intensity: comfort, harmony, amusement, satiation, and relaxation

Based on his research, Seligman teaches readers to enhance pleasure by:

  • preventing habituation – space out pleasurable activities so that they happen just frequently enough to keep making you happy, and even better “arrange it so that the people you live with or otherwise see frequently surprise each other with ‘presents’ of pleasure.” An unexpected cup of coffee, her favorite artist’s new album when she arrives home, a simple note of gratitude and appreciation.
  • savoring pleasures – “basking (receiving praise and congratulations), thanksgiving (expressing gratitude for blessings), marveling (losing the self in the wonder of the moment), and luxuriating (indulging the senses.”
  • mindful attention to the present – meditation helps with this one

Authentic happiness, Seligman‘s research indicates, has social, intellectual and physical benefits such as increased creativity, improved memory, boosted, productivity, better health and longevity.

Sounds good to me :)

My favorite part of Authentic Happiness so far is this Buddhist story about mindfulness:

After three years of study, the novice monk arrives at the dwelling of his teacher. He enters the room, bursting with ideas about knotty issues of Buddhist metaphysics and well-prepared for the deep questions that await him in his examination.

“I have but one question”, his teacher intones.”I am ready, master,” he replies.

“In the doorway, you have just passed through, were the flowers to the left or to the right of the umbrella?”

The novice retires, abashed for three more years of study.

I’m very excited to learn more about positive psychology!


4 responses to “Seligman's Authentic Happiness: Parts I & II

  1. Pingback: Authentic Happiness in Marriage « Adventures in Reading

  2. Pingback: Haidt’s Happiness Hypothesis: Chapters 5 - 11 « Adventures in Reading

  3. Pingback: Authentic Happiness and Raising Children « Adventures in Reading

  4. Pingback: Authentic Happiness and finding Meaning in Life « Adventures in Reading

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