Martin Seligman

AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS by Martin Seligman
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AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS by Martin Seligman

Recently a wonderful opportunity came my way: I was able to tell a well-respected, practicing psychologist my objections to psychotherapy as it is currently practiced, and he listened carefully, and he responded with both clarity and respect. I have a chance to rethink my position with new insight.
Fine critical analysis is not always a gift. For those who follow Vedic astrology, I have Mars in Virgo rising. Astrology is descriptive, not causative. In my case it rather beautifully describes my forward movement (Mars) with critical discernment (Virgo) and how it pisses off people (energetic, non-diplomatic Mars, in the first house).
And to those who scoff at astrology: “I use astrology for the same reason I use the multiplication table, because it works.” This is a quote from Grant Lewi (1902-1951), an English professor at Dartmouth.
Astrology is a multi-faceted art and my chart yields a further description. Jupiter the great benefic sits in the 7th house, facing my rising sign. In Vedic astrology, Jupiter is in Pisces, its own sign, which creates a Hamsa Yoga, the swan yoga, for good luck and evolutionary progress. Jupiter aspects that rasty Mars of mine. It is surprising how often something good comes out of my forward movement.
In this case, the gift was twofold: one, the psychologist received and validated my careful observations (ever notice how few therapists can listen to anyone, or hear criticism?) and two, this thoughtful man responded with ideas that hadn’t occurred to me. His willingness to engage me intellectually gave me a new insights, new awareness. I enjoy that. I am grateful.
My beautiful step-daughter at Johns Hopkins is aware of my on-going debate about psychotherapy, and told me about a class she took at Hopkins called “Positive Psychology.” She sent her professor’s book to her dad for his birthday. Naturally, I pounced on the book.
And the book is fascinating. Dr. Martin Seligman makes the point that most current psychology is negative psychology: the study of despair, depression, organic illness, failure, self-sabotage, e.g., “discovering deficits and repairing damage.” What about the study of positive mental and emotional traits, like peace, joy, hope, faith, and optimism? Don’t we all want more of those in our lives? But those don’t get funded by grants so they tend not to be studied.
In my opinion, ‘positive psychology’ has largely been left in the hands of New Age self-help gurus and “The Secret” purveyors, which is mixed. Some of those people are selling snake oil, some of them are on to something. (No, there is no irony in a follower of astrology stating this truth.)
Seligman points out, rightly, I think, that people stand to benefit from studying “positive institutions that promote strengths and virtues,” that lead to “lasting fulfillment: meaning and purpose.”
Seligman admits to being agnostic and I am always surprised at the lengths to which ethical humanists go to avoid acknowledging a divine presence. What is the big deal about accepting the infinite field of all-consciousness in which we live and have our beings? Still, his well-written book builds toward an explanation of how to achieve meaning and purpose, and true happiness, in life. I recommend the book. It’s good reading. It’s a rich feast for thought.