What 25 years of research reveal about the cognitive skills of happiness and finding life’s greater purpose.
“The illiterate of the 21st century,” Alvin Toffler famously said, “will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Our outlook on the world and our daily choices of disposition and behavior are in many ways learned patterns to which Toffler’s insight applies with all the greater urgency — the capacity to “learn, unlearn, and relearn” emotional behaviors and psychological patterns is, indeed, a form of existential literacy.
Last week, Oliver Burkeman’s provocatively titled new book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, prompted me to revisit an old favorite by Dr. Martin Seligman, father of the Positive Psychology movement, who was once elected President of the American Psychological Association by the largest vote in the organization’s history and under whom I studied in my college days. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life (public library), one of these 7 must-read books on optimism, was originally published 20 years ago and remains an indispensable tool for learning the cognitive skills that decades of research have shown to be essential to well-being — an unlearning those that hold us back from authentic happiness.
Seligman begins by identifying the three types of happiness of which our favorite psychology grab-bag term is composed:
He then defines optimism and pessimism, pointing out the challenge to self-identify as either, and offers a heartening, heavily researched reassurance:
Seligman, however, also corroborates what’s perhaps Burkeman’s most central admonition — that the extreme individualism and ambition our society worships has created a culture in which the fear of failure dictates all. As Seligman puts it:
Ultimately, Seligman points to optimism not only as a means to individual well-being, but also as a powerful aid in finding your purpose and contributing to the world:
Optimism is invaluable for the meaningful life. With a firm belief in a positive future you can throw yourself into the service of that which is larger than you are.
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life was followed by Authentic Happiness and Flourish, which was among best psychology and philosophy books of 2011
This article is reprinted with permission from Maria Popova. She is a cultural curator and curious mind at large, who also writes for Wired UK, The Atlantic and Design Observer, and is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings (which offers a free weekly newsletter).
Interesting and thought provoking, as always :) I have a technical query though... would it be possible for you tone down (or even turn off) the decorative pattern behind the quotes? It makes my eyes go all squiggly and I can't read those bits without cut and pasting int a word doc!
On Jul 9, 2012 Love's Open House wrote:
TOTALLY enjoy these articles ... EXCEPT FOR ONE THING ... The graphics of " " over the text makes it difficult to read, causing me to not read the whole thing...FRUSTRATING.
I don't want to miss any part of it.
Post Your Reply