As a long-time follower of Martin Seligman’s applied research on optimism, happiness, strength building, and positive psychology I devoured his new memoir, The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism. When he began his psychology career in the 1960s, the field focused on lessening misery. Thanks to his groundbreaking research and innovative leadership in founding positive psychology, there’s now a counterbalancing shift to multiplying what’s right and leveraging strengths.
Here are a few powerful thoughts that jump out from this outstanding book:
I could distinguish spending my life correcting what was wrong from spending it building what was right. Building a good life as opposed to correcting my shortcomings captured ‘happier’ rather than just ‘less unhappy.’
The death grip of the negative exists not just because we are bad-weather animals but also because the negative has an urgency that the positive rarely does. Danger, loss, and trespass tend to arrive suddenly and insist on immediate attention.
Pessimism is lazy; it comes easily and naturally. If you actually live in a more benign world than the Pleistocene and want to enjoy your species’ hard-earned prosperity, you have to break out of the negative. What needs teaching — what needs nurturance, support, and justification — is an optimistic view of the world.
Positive psychology does not do the prescribing; the values of the culture or the individual do that. Positive psychology is an exercise not in changing values but in helping cultures and individuals better achieve what they already value.
I believe that the unrivaled human ability of imagining futures — ‘prospection’ — uniquely describes our species. We prospect the future uniquely well, and this ability might ultimately make the aspiration of wisdom a reality. Hence, we are better named Homo prospectus.
Traditional psychology tried to undo what was wrong, or tried to derive what was right from what was not wrong, or neglected what was right altogether. Positive psychology corrected this imbalance.
Our world, emerging at last from its vale of tears, now stands on the brink of a Florentine moment… it is perilously easy to forget these huge advances and to slip into our glib and quotidian catastrophizing about what ‘terrible times’ we live in now. I exhort us to be more fully conscious of these positives… we have much more to aspire to than less suffering. We can also aspire to more PERMA, more well-being, and more happiness.