Newest Research: Happiness Is a Pork By-Product

You won't reach it by heading there.

Posted May 20, 2011


Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being is Martin E. P. Seligman's well-documented book about what makes life worth living. Before this, he wrote Authentic Happiness, and now he happily tears apart his previous premise. Which, of course, is what's so neat about science: theories can be superseded with further evidence. Seligman spends a good deal of Flourish detailing studies and projects that demonstrate what it means for a life to flourish.

Seligman is a founder of positive psychology (which I studied and wrote about in both Writing in Flow and Loving in Flow). Flow, of course, is that state of peak engagement when time seems to stop and you're in "the zone." Seligman first researched and wrote about helplessness, which is a result of, simply put, having learned somehow that nothing you do makes a difference.

Then he focused on a more positive and popular approach, writing about learned optimism, and later about raising an optimistic child. And now we have this most profound look yet into what allows people to enjoy a state of well-being (which may or may not feel like happiness while you're in it).


Authentic happiness theory combines positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. Seligman (and many of us) used to believe that measuring life satisfaction was the way to determine if you were "happy," except that when asked how satisfied you were with your life, too much depended on how you felt at the moment. Too much about mood, not enough about judgment. Cheery types rate themselves differently.

Flourish contains chapters on teaching well-being to adults and young people, developing a psychologically fit army, turning trauma into growth, and the biology of optimism. Also described are positive psychology exercises that work, such as this one:

  • The What-Went-Well Exercise: Every night for the next week, suggests Seligman, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.