Final Review of ‘Authentic Happiness’ by Martin Seligman

I finished reading Seligman’s ‘Authentic Happiness’.  Overall, I quite enjoyed it and it was a good reminder for the coming New Year, to take stock of one’s strengths, and to design a good life for oneself.  I think that many of us in the Western World are lucky in that we no longer have to expend energy on basic survival; instead, this book reminds us that we can construct a pleasant, meaningful and related existence.
Here are some pros and cons of the book, as I see them:
1)  A good deal of data is presented. For those of us who are science minded, Seligman does not as us just to ‘trust him’ but ge also presents us with a mountain of empirical evidence to support his claims. There are a few places in the book where he is clear that his recommendations are based on speculation and NOT data, and I think that’s smart.  As a scholar, I still am interested in his informed opinion, even if there is no research, to-date, backing a specific claim.

2) The book is very practical.  There are times when he directs you to a website where you can take free questionnaires to determined your strengths and attachment style, for example.  You can generate your own unique happiness formula and come away from this book with some concrete ideas about how to live your life differently.

3) The book assumes the reader is relatively bright;  Seligman’s style of writing is not overly simple or overly complex. I think that a clinician or researcher could get something out of this book (I did) but so could a lay-person.

4) The book has broad application; Seligman he addresses happiness in many facets of life, including marriage and parenting.

1) The book unnecessarily demeans and oversimplifies psychodynamic theory;  There are a number of times where Seligman denigrates dynamic (Freudian) theory, in his book.  I understand why he does this:  psychology has evolved over the years and there may be some benefits to the reader in contrasting old ways of thinking about happiness and positivity to new ways of thinking.  However, there are contemporary versions of dynamic therapy that have empirical backing and I worry about the reader who has a dynamic therapist and becomes convinced that their therapist’s orientation is faulty.

2) The book fails to address diversity (i.e., is the research applicable to everyone regardless the gender, race, and sexual orientation?).  I teach sexuality classes to undergraduates and also, in my practice, see quite a few LGBT clients.  If I try to read the book with their eyes, it seems as if it excludes a lot of ways of being, in the world.  On one hand, Seligman gives a good many personal anecdotes about his marriage and raising his children that make him seem human, However, these personal anecdotes end up sounding overly male and Caucasian, in my opinion.  I respect that Seligman IS a white male, but I think he could do more to both talk about the data’s shortcomings with other populations and also to try and include other populations in his book.

Overall, I will be recommending this book to some of my clients.  I particularly think it’s a great book for the New Year.  It can be ordered here through Amazon UK’s website.