Martin Seligman PhD 

One of the things psychologists used to say was that if you are depressed, anxious or angry, you couldn't be happy. Those were at opposite ends of a continuum. I believe that you can be suffering or have a mental illness and be happy - just not in the same moment that you're sad.

This Post: A Logical Flow

In this post, the logical flow of Martin Seligman's arguments in his book Flourish are presented.  The emphasis on the logical development of the ideas is meant to compliment the more conceptual analysis of another of his books, Learned Optimism.  The conceptual overlap between the two books makes this post and the post on Learned Optimism complementary of each other.  

Chapter by Chapter Outline

  • Chapter 1 explains positive psychology, its history and its potential to help people. 
  • Chapter 2 explains why positive psychology is effective by exploring the defining details and techniques used in the field. 
  • Chapter 3 proves that the study of psychology faces many roadblocks and that those roadblocks are preventing psychology from being able to provide patients with an optimal set of key strategies for achieving happiness and well-being.
  • Chapter 4 introduces the concept of the MAPP (Masters of Applied Positive Psychology) degree
  • Chapter 5 proposes Positive Education as a way to prevent the continuation of the depression epidemic by giving rise to pervasive well-being and happiness
  • Chapter 6 argues that success is the combination of skill and effort 
  • Chapter 7 proposes that the army needs a comprehensive psychological strengthening programing to combat the problem of PTSD
  • Chapter 8 elaborates on chapter seven by explaining the potential for PTG (Post Traumatic Growth) 
  • Chapter 9 Introduces the concept of positive health - that is that a healthy outlook is strongly correlated with healthy physiology 
  • Chapter 10 closes the argument by demonstrating the massive potential for positive change that could be made possible by a set of political and economic institutions that place an emphasis on the concepts of positive psychology

Chapter 1: What is Well Being

Understanding positive psychology allows for the individual to flourish.  

Human well-being cannot fully be described by monisms.  That is, human well-being is a synergistic combination of positive emotion, engagement, meaning, accomplishment, and positive relationships.  Well being theory is a construct used to describe the five aforementioned facets of human life.

Each element must be each of the following: pertains to well being, can be/is pursued for its own sake, and is independent of the other elements.  However positive relationships can benefit oneself while benefiting others.  For example, unexpected, random acts of kindness like penny stamps giveaway benefits others while giving oneself satisfaction as a result of thinking he/she made others happy. 

Chapter 2: Creating Your Happiness - Positive Psychology Exercises that Work 

Positive Psychology is effective when it comes to improving happiness because well-being is an improvable quality of life.  Exercises for increased happiness and well-being include: 

The Gratitude Visit - A surprise visit to someone you are grateful to have in your life.  To perform a gratitude visit, handwrite a letter to the person you will be visiting that is no shorter than half a page long.  Deliver the letter to the person, watch them read it, and then stay with that person for up to an hour afterwards. 

The What-Went-Well Exercise - A way of journaling that focuses on the positive interpretation of a day's events.  Even if a day consisted entirely of what subjectively felt like negative events, the What-Went-Well exercise forces you to reframe the day's events in a positive and optimistic light.  The same objective event can be subjectively experienced in a wide variety of ways. 

The Signature Strengths Exercise - Completion of a questionnaire designed to identify the strengths of your character.  By receiving a listing or your signature strengths and then proposing a series of interpretive questions about them, this exercise forces you to internalize the positive components of your character and sets the stage for planning to use them to your advantage.  

All of these exercises have been clinically proven to dramatically increase happiness and well-being.  The effects are both immediate and long lasting. 

Chapter 3: The Dirty Little Secret of Drugs and Therapy

Depression is the most costly disease in the world and traditional treatments are often only marginally more effective than a placebo.  Depression treatment focuses on the relief of negative feelings but not the bolstering of positive ones.  The science of psychology (particularly in the treatment of depression) often faces barriers to progress in advantageous, new directions. 

The drug companies and the psychotherapy guild have a serious hold on the funding of non-traditional treatments for mood disorders.  There is more money in treating symptoms than finding cures.  Antidepressants consistently fail to pass the 65% barrier.  That is, no clinical study of an antidepressant has demonstrated the active compound to 65% more effective than placebo at treating the symptoms of depression. 

The science associated with modern psychology is more like a puzzle solving than problem solving.  In other words, psychology has been looking for quick fixes to specific issues instead for cures of entire problems.  For example, training snipers and fighter pilots.

Seligman has faced tremendous opposition in trying to bolster the new field positive psychology.  However, the evidence of its efficacy is now irrefutable. 

Chapter 4: Teaching Well-Being: The Magic of MAPP

The MAPP program has attracted some of the brightest, seasoned, professional minds in the world.   Learning about positive psychology is inherently fun and more often than not, changes the life of the student for the better in both private and professional domains.  

Positive Psychology forces you to consider your own life and your own habits.  Not only is this inherently engaging, but it's also a substantial attractor of interested, like minded people. 

Chapter 5: Positive Teaching: Teaching Well Being to Young People 

What we want for our children and what school provides do not necessarily align and depression is becoming a bigger problem for younger people. Positive education is an effective way to improve the world.

Positive Education addresses the problem of widespread youth depression. Many students can be easily exposed to positive psychology, which can allow them to flourish.

Greater well-being improves the process/result of education.  Positive education produces happier students, who, in turn, can more effectively learn and create. Happier students lead to a more inventive populace, which leads to a better, happier world. 

Some would argue that instituting positive psychology into traditional education detracts from the time other subjects can be taught.  However, that is totally wrong.  Positive Psychology can be easily mixed into traditional curricula and actually enhances the learning process in all subjects. 

Chapter 6: GRIT, Character, and Achievement 

Success is the result of a synergistic combination of skill, effort and perseverance. Success is dependent on how quickly the base of task can be done as to maximize the left over time to perfect it.

Sheer time spent on a task adds to your skill in an endeavor.  For example, Angela Lee Duckworth.   

Self control, and perseverance drives success.  That is, people with greater self-control and who can stay focused on tasks despite set back will ultimately be more successful.

Chapter 7: Army Strong - Comprehensive Soldier Fitness

It is essential for the Army to have a comprehensive psychological strengthening program.  

Soldiers will be constantly engaged in warfare for the foreseeable future.  Soldiers need more psychological training in today’s modern, ongoing warfare.

PTSD and veteran suicides are preventable.

The current system fails to provide soldiers with the psychological strength they need to thrive and persevere in combat and at home. The current system is more focused on treating than preventing and isn’t effective. 

Chapter 8: Turning Trauma Into Growth

TSD is a lasting, deleterious result of extreme stress.  Happier, mentally stronger soldiers are less likely to be severely negatively effected by war.

People actually experience “Post Traumatic Growth” if they’re well prepared mentally for war.  That is, they react positively to bad things.

People’s own mental perspective can have greater psychological effects than the actual source of adversity.

Soldiers can be mentally prepared for hardship in the same way average people can.  For example, drill sergeants and teachers reacted similarly to the resiliency program. 

Chapter 9: Positive Physical Health

Optimism is the best predictor of well being, and well being isn’t simply the absence of sadness. 

Learned helplessness is psychologically crippling. For example, the difference in death rates among rats with tumors is dependent most on whether helplessness is learned. 

Optimism leads to good health.  Optimists have superior immune systems. Optimistic men are 25% less likely to get CVD.  Having something worth living for greatly reduces likelihood of having CVD. Optimists are more health conscious. 

Chapter 10: The Politics and Economics of Well-Being

GDP isn’t an adequate measure of a nation’s prosperity.   Well being needs to be more of a focus in economics and politics. 

There are diminishing returns to scale when dealing with a country’s wealth and its mean life satisfaction.  That is, once a certain point of wealth is reached, life satisfaction stops increasing.  For example, there is no satiation point for wealth.

Optimism and strong values drive economic and political flourishing.  For example, the stock market crash was caused by rapidly spreading pessimism.

Focusing more on well-being will change the world for the better.  That is, the downstream positive effects of Pos. Psych will be the 21st century’s contribution to the changing world.