Authentic Happiness and finding Meaning in Life

I finished reading Martin E. P. Seligman‘s Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment a few days ago and have written about positive psychology, the main concepts of this book, how authentic happiness and positive psychology can help you have a better marriage, and how to apply positive psychology to childrearing.

But I also want to share with you Seligman‘s discussion of finding meaning and purpose in life.

First, Seligman mentions receiving an advance copy of Robert Wright‘s Nonzero: The Logic Of Human Destiny.

Click here to view the table of contents and to read excerpts on the author’s website and click here to read a review of Nonzero in the NYTimes Book Review.

Nonzero uses game theory to develop a philosophy of history answering the question, what is the purpose in evolution? Wright believes as Seligman writes, “We are, at this moment, living through the end of the storm before the calm. The Internet, globalization, and the absence of nuclear war are not happenstance. They are almost inevitable products of a species selected for more win-win scenarios. The species stands at an inflection point after which the human future will be much be much happier than the human past.”

Nonzero a follow-up to Wright‘s The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology (named one of the 12 best books of 1994 by NYTimes Book Review), which I bought recently at a local library book sale.

But back to Authentic Happiness. Seligman proposes that negative emotion evolved to help us in win-loss situations and that positive emotions have evolved to motivate and guide us through win-win situations. Of negative emotion, Seligman writes,

When we are in deadly competition, when it is eat or be eaten, fear or anxiety are our motivators and our guides. When we are struggling to avoid loss or to repel trespass, sadness and anger are our motivators and our guides. When we feel a negative emotion, it is a signal that we are in a win-loss game. Such emotions set up an action repertoire that fights, flees, or gives up. These emotions also activate a mindset that is analytical and narrows our focus so nothing but the problem at hand is present.

I don’t know if I agree with the analytical part but the rest makes sense to me. Of positive emotion, Seligman writes,

When we are in a situation in which everyone might benefit – courting, hunting together, raising children, cooperating, planting seeds, teaching and learning – joy, good cheer, contentment, and happiness motivate us and guide our actions. Positive emotions are part of a sensory system that alerts to us the presence of a potential win-win. They also set up an action repertoire and a mindset that broadens and builds abiding intellectual and social resources. Positive emotions, in short, build the cathedrals of our lives.

Seligman concludes Authentic Happiness with his belief that evolution may be bringing us to God who is not supernatural or the creator of the universe, but one who acquires omnipotence, omniscience, and goodness through the natural progression of win-win. It is our responsibility to further this progress.

You are vouchsafes the choice of what course to take in life. You can choose a life that forwards these aims, to a greater or lesser degree. Or you can, quite easily, choose a life that has nothing to do with these aims. You can even choose a life that actively impedes them. You can choose a life built around increasing knowledge: learning, teaching, educating children, science, literature, journalism, and so many more opportunities. You can choose a life built around increasing power through technology, engineering, construction, health services, or manufacturing. Or you can choose a life built around increasing goodness through the law, policing, firefighting, religion, ethics, politics, national service, or charity.

But ultimately finding meaning in life means to find happiness by using your signature strengths everyday in the main realms of living and to forward knowledge, power, or goodness.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a better life. Can’t wait to learn more about positive psychology!

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