Webinar on Developing Extraordinary Leaders and Coaches
I was drawn to this book because Jonathon set out to identify the origins of the burgeoning field of positive psychology in ancient wisdom. Drawing on classical thought from India such as the Upanishads and Buddhism, Chinese philosophers, Mediterranean like the Old and New Testaments, Greek and Roman philosophy, and the Koran he structured the book around “ten Great Ideas.”

A social psychologist specializing in morality and moral emotions Jonathon also teaches positive psychology at the University of Virginia. This background leads to the breathtaking scope of the book covering the divided self, change, reciprocity, fault finding, the pursuit of happiness, love, adversity, virtue, divinity, and meaning of life. The broad tapestry Jonathon weaves together is fascinating, colorful, and often insightful. Other times it gets disjointed and confusing.

His central metaphor illustrates the book’s key concepts and is itself an ancient idea updated with modern research; our minds are divided into two parts like a rider on the back of an elephant. “I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him.”

He intended to only use the rider and elephant imagery in the first chapter, The Divided Self, to examine the divisions of mind/body, left/right, new/old, and controlled/automatic. Continuing the analogy through the book provides a strong illustration of the fundamental approaches embedded in positive psychology on getting our conscious rider and sub-conscious elephant in sync.

The book’s conclusion on the elusive search for happiness boils down to balancing “a yin-yang formulation: Happiness comes from within, and happiness comes from without…. The East stresses acceptance and collectivism; the West encourages striving and individualism. But as we’ve seen, both perspectives are valuable. Happiness requires changing yourself and changing your world. It requires pursuing your own goals and fitting in with others. Different people at different times in their lives will benefit from drawing more heavily on one approach or the other.”