A review of Martin Seligman's 'Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being - and How to Achieve them' (2011), written by Professor Andrew McDonnell
Martin Seligman's book is a real triumph. It builds on his earlier book on authentic happiness. I must admit that when the original book was published I felt that happiness was too narrow a focus and, in true Seligman style, he opens his book by accepting this and broadening his definition of well-being.
A key part of this book is the narrative that Seligman uses to describe his own journey from an animal researcher who quite literally electrocuted dogs to the premier world leader in positive psychology. This of course is a major transformation and represents a really interesting journey. Seligman is willing to share personal reflection and insights with his readers. I also like the fact that Seligman is not afraid to be blunt in his views about research. For example, when he talks about science he dismisses the armchair theorising and logic of Wittgenstein and presents a more scientific approach in the spirit of Popper (1959). His comments about basic research without purpose were robust and humorous and I am afraid even I would not print!
Seligman argues that well-being is "a construct and happiness is a thing" (pp14). In this book, Seligman elaborates on his 5 component model of well-being (or flourishing) using the accronym PERMA. This stands for: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. The book describes applications of this work ranging from schools to the US military. I particularly liked the emphasis on building psychological resilience rather than on "fixing things". It is a personal opinion, but I do believe that somewhere along the line psychologists become taxonomists and fixers/repairers rather than architects.
Unusually for me, I must admit that I did find this book very inspirational. Initially, I had thought about writing a review with the usual minor critiques of terminology. However, in reality. this book contains a narrative that I feel that all professionals should read and reflect.
I have spent my career working with people with intellectual disabilities and/or autism and it has become increasingly clear to me that the PERMA model fits very well with not only my own philosophy, but that of my colleagues in both Studio 3 and Atlass autism. This book is now set reading on all our training on autism stress.