Authentic Happiness

A book review

Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman is a book for the causal intelligent reader who wants to improve their lives. You don’t need any specialist knowledge in psychology but you do need to be able digest some information about the studies that Seligman uses to support his ideas. It’s also for someone motivated to put his ideas into practice and so hopefully improve their quality of life.

Martin Seligman is one of the founders and leading lights in the new positive psychology movement. This book will give you an excellent introduction to this field. Seligman gives convincing arguments based on research as well as practical tips on how to develop lasting happiness, find meaning in your life and to understand your own strengths and weaknesses.

This book falls somewhere between a self book and a text book introducing this topic. Though there is a danger of falling between two stools I think here this works. I found the support from studies increased my confidence in his advice and the practical exercises and tips stopped the book being theoretical.

Authentic Happiness will provoke you to think about your happiness in many ways. How satisfied are you with your life? How optimistic are you? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your character? There are tools included to get you evaluating yourself and practical exercises such as writing letters of gratitude and forgiveness. Seligman will get you thinking about your work life, your love life and your family life. You can also work through a questionnaire with your children to get to know their strengths and weaknesses too.

Seligman describes the research well so that it doesn’t appear too academic. Seligman writes well and often draws the reader in with some personal stories. Authentic happiness has some great advice that could well transform the way you look at your life.

Thoroughly recommended!


Authenticity: A Key Character Strength

Certificate of Authenticity

Photo by dmuth on flickr

Are you really what you claim to be? Are you bold enough to be honest with others and with yourself about your strengths and your weaknesses?

Authenticity is akin to the character strength of integrity. Psychologist Martin Seligman in his research into character strengths sees integrity as an aspect of courage. One characteristic of the courageous hero is honesty with himself and others. The hero is genuine and has integrity. This is a mature strength that is focused on others.

Authenticity is honest and realistic

Authenticity involves first being honest with yourself and then with others.

It means not shying away from self discovery. Though positive thinking has a value and it is right not to dwell on negative thoughts or memories it should not be used to deny the truth by saying something that you know isn’t true. Instead to develop our authenticity we need to gain a healthy understanding of ourselves.

We then need to be secure enough to share that appropriately with friends and family in a positive way. We don’t just need to cope with our problems. We need to see our weaknesses, forgive ourselves and resolve to take positive steps, however small, towards overcoming them. We can then be confident in sharing this without falling into self pity or bitterness.

Authenticity benefits other people

Some character strengths do focus on ourselves such as creativity and curiosity. There is nothing wrong with this focus and it is very important to build ourselves up and to be happy and fulfilled in life. Some character strengths are more self focused some are more focused on other people – kindness, humility and fairness for example. Being bold enough to be honest about our failings and our dealings with them comes into this category.

Perhaps someone can be positive and develop mainly the strengths that focus on themselves but positive psychology also encourages us to develop these strengths that focus on others. To be authentically positive is not just about building up your self but also showing self control and caring for others. Other people matter! Being a positive influence and contributing to the welfare of others is an important key to our own fulfillment.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is a new school of psychology

Positive psychology is a relatively recent movement in psychology that focuses on the positive side of wellbeing, happiness and fulfilment.

A basic premise is that is large proportion of our happiness is within our control. We can choose what we think, what memories we dwell on and how we speak and these influence our outlook and our happiness.

Positive psychology has its roots in the humanistic psychology of Maslow who discussed self actualisation and the positive thinking aspects of cognitive psychology.

The focus has been on research into such topics as hope and optimism, heroism and also character strengths and virtues with an aim to map out such characteristics and explore their origins.

Positive psychology moved out of purely academic circles and came into popular consciousness with the publication of Authentic Happiness, where one of its founders Martin Seligman outlined some simple keys to happiness.

Positive psychology has many practical applications

Finding meaning in your life

Positive psychology as outlined in Authentic Happiness isn’t as selfish as it might first sound. Seligman doesn’t just look at hedonistic pleasure but also sees the value of contributing to others and finding meaning to your life.

Because it acknowledges the importance of finding purpose and vision for your life this means that positive psychology has a healthy view of spirituality and of the importance of being a positive role model and contributing to the needs of others.

In his more recent book Flourish Seligman discusses how there is more to life than happiness. He points out the importance of finding meaning and purpose in life.

Developing character strengths

Positive psychology is about developing character strengths. Research into character strengths has led to the identification of 24 key character strengths under 6 main headings.

Wisdom and Knowledge that includes

  • curiosity – having an interest in the world
  • love of learning
  • open-mindedness – not making snap judgement but not just accepting everything either rather open-mindedness is about getting the relevant information before making a decision
  • ingenuity – being original and being practical – ‘street smart’
  • social intelligence – understanding people and situations – emotional intelligence
  • perspective – seeing the bigger picture

Courage including

  • valour – being brave i.e. acting when you are scared
  • perseverance – working diligently and working hard – keeping going
  • integrity – being genuine and honest – being authentic
  • zest – enthusiasm and passion


  • kindness – being generous to others
  • loving – caring for others and allowing yourself to be cared for and loved


  • citizenship – loyalty – doing your duty – working as a team
  • fairness – equity
  • leadership


  • self-control
  • prudence – discretion or caution
  • humility – modesty


  • appreciation of beauty – appreciating excellence not just in art or nature but in any area
  • gratitude
  • hope – being optimistic or future minded
  • spirituality –about having a sense a purpose – it doesn’t have to be about religion or faith
  • forgiveness – showing mercy
  • humour

Life coaching

Positive psychology also has had an important influence in the growth of life-coaching. Coaching applies such principles as encouraging people to achieve their goals and to find purpose and meaning to their lives. In this way coaching is different from counselling or therapy that often focuses on solving people’s problems such as their anxieties or addictions.

This has been applied to areas such as education, parenting and management. This focus on positivity has helped many people deal with their stress and it has also helped them develop their character, build more loving relationships, be better parents and find satisfaction in their work.