HAPPINESS: Using the New Positive Psychology
Although Martin Seligmans latest work, Authentic Happiness, is a self-help book, it is quite a leap beyond the norm of that genre. Seligman is first and foremost a rigorous scientist. From the late 1960s to the 1980s, he was among the most admired experimental psychologists in the world. But for the past 15 years or so, he has abandoned the lab cages for human experimentation. And the reader of Authentic Happiness is one of those subjects.
As you read, you can chart the progress of your happiness quotients by completing the books dozens of diagnostic questionnaires, or register on a Web site, www.authentichappiness.org, which provides an easier vehicle for test-takingand will even calculate your results for you.
The work is separated into three parts. The first part sets out definitions of happiness and then addresses the key question, Can You Make Yourself Lastingly Happier? The majority of the book answers this question, by leading the reader step by step along Seligmans yellow brick road to greater happiness. The first step is achieving Satisfaction About the Past. Seligman holds very few psychological truths to be sacrosanct. So, for example, in the Past section, Seligman turns Freud upside down by recommending methods and actions designed to recraft a more satisfying past. Next comes how to evaluate your level of optimism or pessimism, followed by immediate steps to make yourself happier in the present and the future.
The second part of the book, Strength and Virtue is the most important diagnostic section. Seligman and his colleagues spent years doing cross-cultural research, from ancient to current works, to discover ubiquitous virtues embraced throughout the world. They ultimately identified six: wisdom and knowledge, courage, love and humanity, justice, temperance, and spirituality and transcendence.
This difficult winnowing process required the abandonment of many laudable non-ubiquitous virtues, as Seligman notes, such as wit in Aristotle, thrift in Benjamin Franklin, cleanliness for the Boy Scouts of America, and vengeance to the seventh generation in the Klingon code (Obviously, they took their cross-cultural mandate seriously). Seligmans group then identified 24 signature strengths of character that help people across the globe achieve the six virtues. The most daring postulate in the book is that by identifying and amplifying your strongest signature strengths (for example, love of learning, prudence, humility) you can lastingly increase your levels of happiness.
The third section covers how to utilize your signature strengths at work, for general personal satisfaction, to amplify love, and to identify and bolster the signature strengths of childrenwhich can provide vaccinations against pessimism and depression, and make kids happier and more productive.
Authentic Happiness is the first major appearance of the public face of a movement in its infancy, Positive Psychology. An outgrowth of Seligmans presidency of the 160,000-member American Psychological Association, Positive Psychology was, at its birth, the brainchild of Seligman and two other brilliant psychologists, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Ray Fowler, conceived when they vacationed together with their families in January 1998. To oversimplify this movement, the goal of Positive Psychology is to expand the field from its decades-old, myopic focus on remedying human weaknesses and illnesses toward scientific investigations that focus on building human strengths and positive emotions.
Thats one aspect of Authentic Happiness that provides readers with an extra tingle: you get the feeling that you are being let in on a wonderful secretthat right now, talented scientists who previously concentrated on devising ways of making miserable people less miserable are using their scientific skills to prove the efficacy of methods which can help average people grow emotionally stronger and happier.
Authentic Happiness is also entertainingly written. The contrast of a hard scientist taking on the rather lofty abstractions involved with the topic of happiness gives Seligmans book a unique flavor and power. Another contrast that lends a dynamic tension to the tone of this happy work is that Seligmans own disposition is far from naturally sunny; in fact, he has described himself as a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist.
In recounting a particularly difficult situation in 1997, he writes: Ive talked myself out of hope and into a panic, and I am not in touch with any of my own resourcefulness. I am a hideous example of my own theory Because of Seligmans natural skepticism, his quest to discover tools to build strengths and achieve greater happiness occasionally rises to gratifying heights, when he manages to overcome his fears, like the one described above.
But Seligman is a nimbus cloud with a sense of humor, particularly when recounting the personal case histories of himself and his family, which pepper the book. His writing about increasing the strength and optimism of children is truly important work, which has been wending its way through the psychological and educational community for years.
Seligman also gives readers insights that its actually his wife, psychologist Mandy Seligman, who has inspired many of his epiphanies about building resistant happiness in children. For example, Seligman writes about the decision to have newborns sleep in their bed, But, as with most of our childrearing enterprisesMandy wanted four kids and I wanted none, so we compromised on fourMandy prevailed.
Authentic Happiness is just the beginning of lots more prevailingly optimistic, scientific psychology to come, which will make you happierand Martin Seligman can prove it.
Rob Hirtz C80 is a former mental health consultant to the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and former government and public relations consultant to the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania. He profiled Martin Seligman in the January/February 1999 issue of the Gazette.
Beauty of the Place
PERFECT HOUSE: A Journey with
On a fateful day in 1537 or 1538, a young stonemason by the name of Andrea di Pietro dalla Gondola came to the attention of Count Giangiorgio Trissino, a linguist, scholar, poet, and nobleman who was in the midst of remodeling a villa in Vicenza. Trissino had power. He had connections, fame, a reputation, and a plan to introduce the progressive culture of Rome to the young men of his native Vicenza.
Somehow or another, that young stonemason became a candidate for Trissinos mentoring. Somehow or another, he found himself in the possession of borrowed books, in the swirl of conversation about Roman architecture and Vitruvius, and in the company of Trissinos friends, who introduced Andrea to new places, new ideas, and brand new ways of thinking. Somehow or another, he both evolved and emerged.
Over time, of course, the stonemason named Andrea matured into the architect known as Palladio. Eager to learn, to draw, and to design, by all accounts charming as well as gracious, Palladio evolved an aesthetic that eventually inspired countless facsimiles around the world. The English architect Inigo Jones introduced Roman and Italian Renaissance architecture to Britain in the early 1600s. Thomas Jefferson was a fan of Palladios work. And American Palladianism is a widely recognized style, not only in the residential architecture of Virginia and the Carolinas, but in churches, banks, and the great portico of the White House.
The Perfect House, the 12th book by Witold Rybczynski, the Meyerson Professor of Urbanism and Real Estate, takes its readers on a tour of the Palladian villas of Italy. At least partly inspired by Goethes command that, You have to see these buildings with your own eyes to realize how good they are, Rybczynskis purpose, with this book, is to weave the little that is known about Palladios life into a travelogue of sorts that documents and evaluates the standing villas. Rybczynski himself journeys from villa to villa, reporting on the commission, the client, the floor plan, the materials, and whatever can be gleaned about Palladios design philosophy and ambitions.
Its not always an easy fitthe small personal diary outtakes on the contemporary fare of local restaurants, say, interspersed with the architectural history, theory, and biographybut Rybczynski is such a careful and informed guide, such an enthusiastic presence on the page, that the book is a pleasure to read. Not only that, but the book informs. By stepping readers through every accessible villa, Rybczynski presents a clear case for both the rules of Palladian architecture and the inventive, thoughtful way that their maker consistently broke them.
The villas of Palladio signal a brand new era of domestic architecture, Rybczynski suggests, when an architectural language previously reserved for temples and palaces was introduced to residential buildings. Much of the potent architectural symbolism associated with the home, whether it is the grand porch of the stockbrokers mansion in Connecticut or the modest pediment over the front door of an American Colonial bungalow, is derived from these sixteenth-century structures. It all starts with Palladio.
The few glimpses history affords of Palladio himself are seductive ones. Rybczynski presents him as a man who cares enormously about a buildings relationship to its site, as a man obsessed with details, and as a man who is capable of leading his clients toward good design without relying on arrogance or bullying. Likewise, Palladio is a man who is never so thoroughly satisfied with his own ideas that he doesnt later challenge them himself and a man who, in addition to making fastidious drawings of proposed villas, also negotiated with contractors, kept the books, chose the building materials, and oversaw the villas constructionall for the kind of rather lousy wages that architects are all too-used to getting paid today.
Palladio is also a man, marvelously enough, who never seemed to lose touch with his own origins in the building profession, at least according to the eye-witness Paolo Gualdo, who provides this rare, animated view of the man in action:
He kept [his workmen] constantly cheerful, treating them with so many pleasant attentions that they all worked with the most exceptional good cheer. He eagerly and lovingly taught them the best principles of art, in such a way that there was not a mason, a stone cutter, or carpenter, who did not understand the measurements, elements, and rules of true architecture.
The final chapter of The Perfect House is dedicated to the eight days Rybczynski, his wife, and two friends actually live in a Palladian villa by the name of Villa Saraceno at Finale di Agugliaro. This is, Rybczynski tells us, an early villa to which not a lot of fame is attached. Still, living in the house would give Rybczynski a chance, he says, to know the place through all hours of the day and night, through the many moods that a house is meant to finally contain. It would also give Rybczynski a chance, he hoped, to uncover Palladios secretto answer, in other words, What made his houses so attractive, so imitated, so perfect?
That question, as it turns out, is not so easy for Rybczynski to answer. He knows, he says, that the house feels good and that the peasantlike roughness of the materials contrasting with the elegantly carved stone details has something to do with it; so does the commodiousness of the rooms and their pleasing overall proportions.
But there must be more to it than that, and as Rybczynski walks the house, walks the grounds, sits and watches the light of the rooms fade and burn, he tries to put his finger on an answer. Finally Rybczynski concludes that the beauty of the place has something to do with ratios, equilibrium, something akin to harmony.
He pleases the mind as well as the eye, Rybczynski writes. His sturdy houses, rooted in their sites, radiate order and balance, which makes them both of this world and otherworldly. Although they take us out of ourselves, they never let us forget who and what we are. They really are perfect.u
Beth Kephart C82s fourth nonfiction book, One Precipitous Leap, will be released by W.W. Norton next spring.
A selection of recent books
by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest to the University community.
Descriptions are compiled from information supplied by the authors and
Dynasties, Foreigners, and Affairs of State
WOMENS HEALTH DURING AND AFTER PREGNANCY:
LOVE STORIES: A Literary Companion to Tennis
BROWN SKIN: Dr. Susan Taylors Prescription
KAFKAS TRAVELS: Exoticism, Colonialism, and the Traffic of Writing
CHICKEN SOUP BY HEART
HOW WE CAME TO STAND ON THAT SHORE: Poems
MEET JULIUS CARMICHAEL: First Day Blues
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