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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Self-important Author Repackaging Some Good Ideas, March 31 2004
This review is from: Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (Paperback)
I simply cannot understand most of the other reviewers here in their adoration of this book. Primarily, the book draws on insights already expressed by others without giving appropriate credit. One example is John F. Kennedy, who defined happiness as "full use of your powers along the lines of excellence" (compare this to Seligman's defintion: "successfully using your signature strengths to obtain...gratification.)" Another example is Norman Vincent Peale who defined optimism as a "habit of mind" (compare this to Seligman's point that we can achieve optimism by routinely engaging in the "disputing of pessimistic thoughts.") Can you say Positive Thinking? Conciously or unconciously, Seligman has repackaged these thoughts and labeled the package "Positive Psychology."
The warming over of these old concepts, in itself, would not be a bad thing because the borrowed concepts have much validity. What IS bad, however, is the way Seligman padded and diluted these nuggets with a lot of personal anecdotes, self congratulation, questionnaires, and psuedo science. And he constantly uses pure trivia as his source for second guessing other great thinkers on the weightiest of subjects. For example, he implies that the enitire book was hatched as the result of an "epiphany" he experienced when his 5 year old daughter called him a grouch. Similarly, all of his self-assured recommendations on child rearing, contained in a long chapter that seems tacked on to the book, are based on the experience of raising his own kids. Seligman apparently is on his second family (his 6 kids include toddlers and near-middle-agers.) Why should I take his advice on child rearing when he admits that, until he bribed her with the offer of a Barbie Doll, he couldn't stop his youngest from hiding, day after day, where her family could not find her? He actually says we should only bribe kids this way "once or twice in a lifetime."
Finally, Seligman unlocks the mystery of God for us by engaging in his typical practice of finding answers not in the words of Aristotle, Plato, or Freud but by seeking answers in less less likely places. He goes instead to the world of sci-fi, telling us that his theory on the identity of God was inspired by an Isaac Asimov short story. He unravels this mystery for us by quoting a poolside conversation during which, as he describes it, he dazzled a brilliant writer, Bob Wright, with his profound insight on the Diety. What's the insight? "God comes at the end" but wasn't here in the beginning!
If you want to get anything useful out of this book, you have to work hard to separate the meaningful stuff from the self-important fluff. I suggest you instead seek out the thoughts of people like Kennedy and Peale, who were not only better thinkers, but a heck of a lot less arrogant.
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