your circumstances is a hard way to go. Only 25% or so of us achieve
a really good, lasting, loving relationship (in spite of the 50% very
happy ratings at any one time mentioned above). Perhaps only 10%
or 15% of us worldwide can arrange to live in a wealthy democracy.
Getting religion if you dont have it is hard, it cant be forced. Likewise,
reducing negative feelings requires psychological skills and methods.
A little summary: According to Seligman the role of circumstances
in happiness is quite limited: education, income, and climate don't
influence happiness very much; feeling healthy, avoiding trauma, and
developing hope through religion only contribute moderately to
happiness; however, important life conditions include achieving a good
marriage and living in a wealthy democracy. OK, but what about other
life circumstances, such as raising a healthy, happy family? Having a
successful career one is very proud of? Living an altruistic life devoted
to helping others? What about being the best mechanic or a loved
teacher in your town for 50 years?
More promising routes to happiness
Seligman obviously doesnt think trying to change your
circumstances is the best way to become happy. Instead, developing
new personality traits, different outlooks, and more positive attitudes
offer more hope because they may be more under your voluntary
Starting from the great virtues identified by philosophers over the
last 5000 years, such as wisdom, courage, love, justice, temperance
and transcendence, Seligman tries to help each person discover their
own unique strengths or virtues. He calls these individual traits your
signature strengths. Much of his book focuses on teaching you to
nurture your positive natural traits or virtues, so you can live the
good life and experience authentic happiness in work, love, and child
rearing. To his credit, he has also developed a Web site
site offers rating scales which are automatically scored, explained, and
stored in your personal test folder. The ratings measure and provide
norms for several of your traits or characteristics, such as your
Signature Strengths (listed later), happiness, positive and negative
feelings, optimism, close relationships, and so on. If you decide to take
Seligmans book seriously, please also make use of these rating scales.
Note: he openly states that he intends to use your test scores in his
I feel confident that he will hold your information in
confidence and deal with your disclosures respectfully.
Seligman has a very different understanding of psychopathology
than the Freudian psychodynamic psychotherapists who see childhood
trauma as the usual cause of adult unhappiness and disorders.
Seligman believes childhood experiencesabuse, neglect, divorce,
parents deathare over-rated causes. Many current therapies
reinforce people feeling victimized by the past; after treatment they
feel imprisoned and embittered by mistreatment as a child. But the