Authentic Happiness: Summary, Review & Criticism

authentic happiness book cover

Authentic Happiness (2002) provides an overview of Positive Psychology. Written by Martin Seligman, one of the founders of the disciplines, it will teach why happiness and optimism matter, and how you can become happier and more optimistic.

Key Insights

  • Psychology for too long focused on illnesses only. It’s time for a new psychology of happiness and optimal life
  • We can all increase our level of happiness and satisfaction
  • A full life takes into account all pleasures, but work to develop our strengths, which we can deploy for the greater good


About the Author: Martin Seligman is an American psychologist and researcher. Seligman has been the president of the American Psychological Association (APA), and he is one of the founders and main proponents of “Positive Psychology”. He is also the author of “Flourish” and “Learned Optimism“.

Happiness can be lastingly increased: welcome to Positive Psychology

Martin Seligman opens “Authentic Happiness” saying that research proves that our happiness level can be increased.

To explain how to do that, a new movement in psychology has born. It’s the “Positive Psychology”, that sets out to study happiness, fulfillment, and human potential.
“Authentic Happiness” is a positive psychology book, and can show how you how to live at the upper end of your happiness range.

Overcoming the “Rotten to The Core Dogma”

Seligman defines the “rotten to the core dogma” the belief that happiness is inauthentic. It’s a dogma that spans many cultures, he says, and it permeates the Judeo-Christian cultures with the doctrine of the original sin.

But psychology, which he will later define as “old psychology”, has done its part to help fuel the “rotten to the core dogma”.
Who did it? Sigmund Freud.

Martin Seligman does not seem to hold Sigmund Freud in high regard.
It shows more than once across the book, and it starts from the very beginning.

Freud defined civilization as a gigantic defense mechanism against the infantile conflicts of sexuality and aggression.
In repressing those primordial drives, humans created civilization.

Seligman does not agree with that, and mocks the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis:

So the reason I am sitting in front of my computer writing this preface—rather than running out to rape and kill—is that I am “compensated,” zipped up and successfully defending myself against underlying savage impulses

My note: I agree Freud went too far, but Seligman goes too far in the opposite direction
I think Seligman is downplaying how important sexual selection has been in shaping our minds and our thirst and drive for personal success.

Virtue evolved and exists because virtue is good

Seligman’s main critic to Freud and his disciples is that all virtue in the world is ascribed to negative drives and emotions.
Instead, he says:

there is not a shred of evidence that strength and virtue are derived from negative motivation.

Instead, he believes, virtues and good traits evolved because they were good per se.

The 3 Pillars of Positive Psychology

Seligman says Positive Psychology rests on three major pillars of study:

  1. Positive emotions: feelings and sensations
  2. Positive traits: strengths and virtues first and foremost, but also “abilities” such as intelligence and athleticism.
  3. Positive institution: the institutions that support the virtues, which in turn support the emotions. It includes democracy, families, personal freedoms, etc.

Types of Emotions

Seligman divides positive emotions into 3 temporal categories:

  • Past: satisfaction, contentment, pride, serenity
  • Future: optimism, hope, confidence, trust, faith
  • Present: there are three types of present positive emotions:
    • Pleasures: they are momentary pleasures that come through the senses, divided in two different categories:
      • Bodily pleasures: sexual feelings, good tastes and smells, good sounds like music, etc. 
      • Higher pleasures: they are set off by more learned and complex mechanisms. They include: ecstasy, rapture, thrill, bliss, gladness, glee, fun, ebullience, comfort, amusement, relaxation, etc.
    • Gratifications: gratifications are not feelings but activities that absorb and engage us. These activities allow us to experience flow

It’s easy to enjoy pleasures because they require no training, virtues, or skills. But to enjoy gratifications, one must also develop strengths and virtues.

The Different Stages of Life’s Pleasure

Seligman categorizes a life based on pleasure along 4 different stages:

  1. The pleasurable life: It’s heavy in pleasure, but not gratifications. Driving Ferrari, drinking champagne, banging bitches, and getting drunk in the clubs is the pleasurable life. It’s heavily based on bodily pleasure, which have a few drawbacks, including habituation (you get used to it and it’s not as pleasurable anymore), hedonistic fallacy (when you finally have it, you realize it doesn’t make you happy), and
  2. The good life: It’s heavy in gratifications. Using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification. The good life requires you self-awareness, finding out what you like doing, getting good at it, and putting it into the service of something larger.
    1. The meaningful life: like the happy life, but adds one more layer: you are using your signature strengths in the service of something larger than you are
  3. The full life: when you combine all of them, you get a full life. Seligman defines it as “experiencing positive emotions about the past and future, savoring positive feelings from the pleasures, deriving abundant gratification from your signature strengths, and using these strengths in the service of something larger to obtain meaning”

Albeit Seligman includes all types of pleasures in his “full life”, it seems to me that he prefers gratifications to pleasures.

Why Stacking Up Pleasures is Not Enough

One might think that Positive Psychology could be reduced to “how to many as many pleasurable moments”.

And the sum total of our life’s happiness could be total pleasure minus total pain.

There is already a branch of science studying how we feel from moment to moment, and it’s called “hedonics”. But Seligman believes that’s not enough.

He says:

The sum total of our momentary feelings turns out to be a very flawed measure of how good or how bad we judge an episode—a movie, a vacation, a marriage, or an entire life—to be.

Daniel Kahneman, author of “Thinking Fast and Slow”, proves that what we remember with pleasure or pain is not the direct sum total of the momentary pains and pleasures.
For Seligman, the evidence is in the popular colonoscopy study, which proves that how things begin and end has an outsized impact on how we remember them.

My Note: Kahneman does not prove that hedonism is wrong, and one can be happy with pleasures alone
I partially agree with Seligman, but not completely.

To begin with, Kahneman does not prove that hedonism does not lead to happiness. He only proves that what we remember is not 100% what happened, and there is plenty of evidence for that. But that does not prove that hedonism, or the pursuit of pleasures, cannot lead to a happy life.
I think Seligman is trying to portray what he prefers as to be the best way. Well, I agree with him that most people are better served with his recipe.
But there are plenty of people who are happy chasing pleasures. I have met a few of them. Best people to be around.

The 24 Positive Psychology Strengths That Bring About Greater Well-Being

Seligman says there are 24 strengths Positive Psychology recognizes, which can be grouped into 6 categories:

  1. Wisdom & Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective
  2. Courage: bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest
  3. Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
  4. Justice: teamwork, fairness, leadership
  5. Temperance: forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation
  6. Transcendence: appreciation of beauty & excellence; gratitude; hope; humor; spirituality

How did positive psychology come up with these 24 strengths?

  1. They are valued in almost every culture
  2. They are valued in their own right, not just as a means to other ends
  3. They are malleable (learnable)

The “Depressive Realism” Might be a Myth

Pessimists are realists.

That’s been a mantra for a long time in psychology.
Seligman himself said so in “Learned Optimism“:

There is considerable evidence that depressed people, though sadder, are wiser.
These have been the consistent findings over the last decade.

So, are pessimists more realistic, but unhappy?
And are optimists happier, but at the detriment of reality?

Experiments showed that happy people remembered more happier moments than sad ones, but their memories were inaccurate.
And happier people tended to overestimate their competence, while unhappier ones were more accurate.

But could it just be another psychology myth?

Many of those original experiments failed to replicate (see: replication crisis in psychology).
And Lisa Aspinwall experiment shows that happier people were better at remembering information related to health risks, and rated it as more convincing. 

The resolution to this dispute, Seligman says, is this:

  • Happy people tend to rely more on their past positive experiences during the normal course of life. If a light wasn’t responding for the last 10 minutes, happy people think that they will eventually control it again (what Seligman doesn’t add here is that they might be wrong more times than not)
  • When events are potentially threatening, happy people can switch tactic and adopt a more skeptical frame of mind

When making decisions, for example hiring decisions, people in a happy and positive state of mind tend to focus on potential and personal qualities.
People in a negative mood tend to focus on what is wrong.

Positive Emotions Predict Health, Longevity, Prosociality (& Possibly, Success)

Happier people have better health, live longer, and are more likely to follow healthy habits.

They also tend to be more productive, set higher goals for themselves, and persist longer.

Positive emotions aren’t just good for us, but they also make us better human beings.
When we are happy we want to engage more with others, lift others up, and share our good fortune. 
And the opposite is true: it’s when we are down that we become more self-focused and selfish. 

Says Seligman:

Looking out for number one is more characteristic of sadness than of well-being.

Happiness might also be important for commerce, and personal success. Says Seligman:

But feeling positive emotion is important (…) because it causes much better commerce with the world. Developing more positive emotion in our lives will build friendship, love, better physical health, and greater achievement.

Also read:

The Happiness Formula

In a tone that struck me as somewhat elitist, Seligman says that albeit most of his book is based on statistics, he only asks his reader to consider one equation

H = S + C + V 


H appines = S et range + C ircumstance of your life + V (what you control)

H is your enduring level of happiness, not the momentary one, which can be raised with a number of short-term pleasure.

Please also note the “set range”, because:

S = The Set Range of Happiness (You’re Not Extremely Elastic)

Seligman started studying positive psychology believing that the human brain was endlessly plastic and, with enough work, it could be changed as one pleased.

But it turned out to be untrue. And genes do matter.
Says Seligman:

Roughly 50 percent of almost every personality trait turns out to be attributable to genetic inheritance

However, that one trait is highly heritable does not determine how changeable or unchangeable a trait is.
Some highly heritable traits, like sexual orientation and body weight, don’t change much, while some other highly heritable traits like fearfulness and pessimism are very changeable.

We all tend to have an inherited “range” of happiness along which we can move. 
Says Seligman:

Roughly half of your score on happiness tests is accounted for by the score your biological parents would have gotten had they taken the test. This may mean that we inherit a “steersman” who urges us toward a specific level of happiness or sadness.

However, this is not necessarily bad news.
While the set range tends to pull us back when something makes us very happy, it also pulls us upward when some negative events pull us below our usual range.

Even people who become paraplegic because of spinal cord accidents quickly recover and end up only slightly less happy on average than individuals who are not paralyzed.

The Set Range Explains the Hedonic Treadmill

The set range of happiness also explains the “hedonic treadmill trap”, such as the human tendency to chase pleasures and victories for happiness, only to go back to their usual range soon after they achieved it.

 Some Bad Events Take a Long Time to Adapt

There are though some bad events that we rarely get used to, and they include the loss of a child or a spouse, caretaking for a family member with Alzheimer’s, and living in very poor nations.

Fighting your set range

Noting that there might be a correlation between social contacts and happiness, Seligman seems to suggest that you might want to push yourself to be a bit more social.

He says:

So, for example, if you are low in positive affectivity, you may frequently feel the impulse to avoid social contact and spend your time alone. (…) Happy people are very social, and there is some reason to think that their happiness is caused by lots of fulfilling socializing. So, if you do not fight the urgings of your genetic steersman, you may remain lower in happy feelings than you would be otherwise.

I liked this part.
I wish Seligman had dug deeper on this, but it seems clear enough. If you tend to be unhappy, chances are that you will want to avoid social contacts. But you should probably force yourself to have some more.

C = Circumstances

These are the circumstances which you can change your level of happiness:

Money: Important From 

National purchasing power and average national life satisfaction go strongly in the same general direction. But the correlation disappears once GNP exceeds $8,000 per person and more money brings no further happiness. 

It’s also subjective though.
How important money is to you, more than money itself, influences happiness.

But materialism is counterproductive: people who value money more than other goals are less satisfied with their lives as a whole.

 Marriage: married people are happier

Married people are happier, unless their marriage is really bad, in which case they are unhappier than the average unmarried person.

Seligman, though, says that it’s not possible to disentangle causation here. It might be the case that happier people are more likely to marry.

On average, though, most very happy people are involved in a romantic relationship.

Social Life: Happy People Spend Time Socializing

Very happy people spend less time alone and more time socializing as compared to average and unhappy people.

Age: Little Difference, Big Changes in Emotional Intensity

Old studies showed that younger people are happier, but that hasn’t held up in more recent ones.

Life satisfaction actually goes slightly up with age. 
What does change significantly though is the intensity of emotions. Both negative and positive emotions are less intense as we age.

Health: Objective Health Doesn’t Matter, Subjective One Does

Surprisingly, objective health has little impact on happiness. 
It’s how healthy we feel we are that has a major impact, though. And that has less to do with actual health, and more with our ability to adapt and appraise our health positively.

If illnesses are severe and long-lasting, then happiness and life satisfaction do decline. With one chronic health problem usually people bounce back. But with five or more, happiness deteriorates over time.

Finally, severely ill cancer patients differ only slightly on global life satisfaction from objectively healthy people

Weather: It Matters Little

People adapt to good weather, and warm and sunny climates stop being a mood boost.

Religion: Religious People Are Happier

Religious are healthier and live longer, and are generally happier and more satisfied with life.
On average, the more fundamental the religion one espouses, the happier he is.

Seligman says that religious people are likely happier because religion provides hope and meaning.

Religious people also live healthier and more pro-social lives, albeit the causal link is a mystery.

Education, Climate, Race, and Gender: Unrelated to Happiness

None of the above has any impact on happiness. Climate might give a quick boost, but it rapidly dissipates.

V = What You Can Control

Do emotions drive thinking, or does thinking drive emotions?

This has been a contentious issue in psychology: does emotion drive thinking, or does thinking drive emotion?

Such as, do I get sad because I’m having sad thoughts, or am I having sad thoughts because I’m sad?

It’s both, depending on the situation.
Immediate pleasures in the present make us feel good and positively affect our thoughts.
But all emotions about the past are driven by thinking and interpretations.

So, yes, Seligman confirms that it’s true that thinking positively and deliberately about your past will affect your feelings and emotions in the present.
And the opposite is true: ruminating over negative events will make you feel worse. 
This is also true for nations, who tend to be angrier or gloomier depending on how they describe the past.

The Optimists’ Way: Explanatory Styles

Explanatory styles are self-talk or patterns of thought with which we frame events.

Optimists have positive self-explanatory styles, while pessimists have negative self-explanatory styles.

When something bad happens to people with a negative self-explanatory style they blame themselves and see no solutions in sight.
When something bad happens to people with a positive self-explanatory style they blame the conditions and believe the setback is either temporary or not the world.

Explanatory styles work on 3 levels:

  • Time: optimists see loss and rejection as temporary; pessimists see them as permanent
  • Specificity: optimists see loss and rejection as specific; pessimists see them as universal and as big general rejection to their whole work or personality
  • Personal/External: optimists see loss and rejection as a consequence of the circumstances; pessimists take the blame on himself and sees loss or rejection as a loss for the self and a rejection of the self;

The worst is being pessimistic in both time and specificity.
Says Seligman:

Finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune and temporary and specific causes of good events is the practice of despair

People with highly negative self-explanatory style have chronic low self-esteem, are more prone to bouts of depression and they give up more easily.

And the most optimists instead combine positive explanatory styles along both dimensions of time and specificity:

Finding permanent and universal causes of good events along with temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope

People with positive self-explanatory styles are more upbeat, have higher confidence and are more tenacious.

Developing Optimism and Hope: The Art of Disputing

We naturally dispute negative opinions when they come from others.

But when they originate within us, we seem to accept all the nastiest things one could ever say.

Seligman says that disputation is a well-documented model to develop optimism.
Says Seligman:

The first step is just knowing your beliefs warrant dispute; the next step is putting disputation into practice.

The author introduces a model that he dubs “ABCDE”.
Here’s how it works:

  • Adversity: the model starts whenever you are experiencing or thinking about a negative situation in your life
  • Belief: this is when your usual negative self-talk starts
  • Consequences: this is what happens when you let the negative thought fester. You can go through it the first time to realize how it affected you
  • Disputation: this is when the model kicks in. Here you dispute your initial belief and find alternative explanations
  • Energization: here you reflect on how the disputation improved your mood

Disputing Yourself Effectively

There are four elements to effective disputation:

  1. Evidence: learned optimism, contrary to positive thinking, is grounded in reality. The good news is that reactions to negative events are often overreactions, so most of the times you will have facts and data on your side
  2. Alternatives: most events have many causes. Pessimists latch onto the nastiest of the causes, the ones that pain them in the worst possible light and make them feel the worst. By looking at all the causes, you get both a more realistic picture, and a less pessimistic one. You can -and probably should- also focus on the causes that you can change.
  3. Implications: if the above two steps are not enough, this one is about “decatastrophizing”. Ask yourself “OK, so what, what are the implications”? How likely is the worst-case scenario? And even if the worst-case scenario were to come true, what can you do about it?
  4. Usefulness: sometimes deciding to let go of a belief is more important than what is actually true. For example, the world is not fair, that’s true. But if that belief pains you, why dwelling on it? Or why not focusing on all the ways that the world is fair? You can found plenty of those examples, too

Childhood Events Are Overrated

Says Seligman in another barb to Freudian psychology:

I think that the events of childhood are overrated; in fact, I think past history in general is overrated.
It has turned out to be difficult to find even small effects of childhood events on adult personality, and there is no evidence at all of large—to say nothing of determining—effects

Some support for past events’ impact on the present did emerge, but it was not much.
For example, if your mother dies before you are 11 years old, then you are more likely to be slightly depressive. But it’s a small difference, and only if you are female -and only in half of the studies-.

If your parents divorced, there can be a major impact on children. But the problem wanes as they grow older, and they are not easily detectable in adults.

Even major traumas of childhood have a barely detectable influence on adult personality.

My Note: I only partially agree
I certainly agree with Seligman that Freud went too far, and did so with a total lack of evidence.
Yet, I have read, experienced, and observed plenty of supportive information on how the parent-children relationship affects people. See for example “Will I Ever be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers“.

Seligman says that older studies looking for links between childhood and adult personalities were not accounting for genes. 

And he goes on saying:

This means that the promissory note that Freud and his followers wrote about childhood events determining the course of adult lives is worthless.
I stress all this because I believe that many of my readers are unduly embittered about their past, and unduly passive about their future, because they believe that untoward events in their personal history have imprisoned them.
Merely to know the surprising facts here—that early past events, in fact, exert little or no influence on adult lives—is liberating

Seligman also links the belief that past events determine the future to what he refers to as a philosophy of victimization (“victimology”), and which threatens to supplant the individualism and sense of personal responsibility that characterized the American culture.

Also see:

Enlightened Self-Interest: Making of The Ubermensch

Attachment Styles: It’s Good to Be Secure

In the last part before delving into a theory of win-win transcendence, Seligman discusses child-rearing, relationships, and attachment styles.

  • Secure attached:
    • remember their parents as warm, available, and affectionate
    • have high self-esteem and few doubts; they regard others as trustworthy and reliable until proven otherwise
    • they strive and work on intimate relationships with those they love
    • admit when they are in distress
    • Caretaking: they are aware of what the partner wants and doesn’t want and ready to help
    • Sex: avoids one night stand, thinks that sex is better with a relationship
  • Anxious attachment:
    • remember their fathers as unfair
    • feel they have little control over their lives and find others difficult to predict
    • cling and always fear rejection
    • flaunt their anger and distress
    • Caretaking: provides compulsive caretaking whether the partner asks for it or not (so true)
    • Sex: women get involved exhibitionism, while men have little sex
  • Avoidant attachment:
    • remember their mothers as cold, rejecting, and unavailable
    • lack confidence, especially in social situations; regard people with suspicion, guilty until proven innocent
    • put greater emphasis on achievement than relationships, and people partners at arms’ distance
    • they don’t disclose, they don’t tell you how they feel
    • Caretaking: are insensitive to their partners’ needs
    • Sex: enjoy sex without commitment more than secures, but don’t have more of it

More Wisdom

  • Move where you are most appreciated: a highly successful but recluse man asked Seligman what he should do to find a woman. He told him to move to Europe, where bubbliness is not as highly prized as in the US. And he found a woman in Europe. This is an example of sexual market value relativity and sexual market value hack.
  • Don’t waste too much time fixing your weaknesses, focus on your signature strengths instead
  • More negative emotions don’t crowd out positive ones: having more than average misery in your life does not mean you can’t also have lots of joy
  • Women have both more negative and more positive emotions
  • Don’t watch too many sitcoms: surveys show that the average mood while watching sitcoms on television is mild depression


On the difference between positive psychology and positive thinking:

It is important to see the difference between this approach and the so-called power of positive thinking.
Positive thinking often involves trying to believe upbeat statements such as “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better” in the absence of evidence, or even in the face of contrary evidence. (…) Many educated people, trained in skeptical thinking, cannot manage this kind of boosterism. Learned optimism, in contrast, is about accuracy.

On the limitations of bodily pleasures:

Rapidly repeated indulgence in the same pleasure does not work. The pleasure of the second taste of Basset’s French vanilla ice cream is less than half of the first, and by the fourth taste it is just calories.

Real-Life Applications

There is much to readily apply to your life in this book. 
Obviously there are the techniques to avoid dwelling on pessimistic thoughts, or practicing gratitude. 

But I took away a few more interesting techniques that I have implemented in my life:

  • Only take a small bite of desserts: bigger doses of a bodily pleasure have diminishing returns. A good technique to enjoy non-perfectly healthy bodily pleasures without going cold turkey then is to only take a small bite or sip. Instead of swearing off desserts, I now allow myself a small bite. Instead of swearing off pizzas, I only allow myself a few slices when sharing a pizza

For more practical takeaways, see Ultimate Power.


I loved “Authentic Happiness”. 
But there is more than one note I need to make.

1. Ridicules Freud, But Misses The Importance of Sexual Drives

I’m far from a fan of Freud.

Since I was a student first reading into Freudian psychology, it all struck me as huge mental elucubration with no data and evidence.
How could all psychoanalys seek to cure people without evidence?

Today, I still believe much of Freud’s fame and influence more because of his confidence, than his competence. He spoke like an Oracle, and psychology shows that people tend to follow the charismatic leader.

Yet, as famed neuroscientist Ramachandran says in his book “Phantoms in The Brain“, Freud was, in many ways, also a genius.

Seligman ridicules Freud for building much of his theory around sexuality. And he mocks Freud for saying that much of civilization is built around sexual drives.
Yet, we do build civilization, in large part, out of thirst for social status and sexual success. Or how else does Seligman think that human males evolved their drives, which are not coincidentally far more pronounced than women?

Freud might not be 100% correct, but he does not deserve that kind of ridicule.

That’s not the first time I felt Seligman was not truly on top of evolutionary psychology.
At first, he seems to suggest that siblings rivalry is not real, or natural. He says that “negative psychology” is wrong at generalizing to the whole human population just because its because the same pattern is universally observed. Then, later, he finally admits that “siblings rivalry exists”. Finally. What was the point of all that denying, then?

2. Subjective measures are proper science?

Says Seligman:

The final judge is “whoever lives inside a person’s skin,” and a great deal of research has shown that the tests of these states (several of which appear in this book) can be rigorously measured. The measures of positive emotion I use are repeatable, stable across time, and consistent across situations—the tools of a respectable science.

I don’t find a questionnaire to be the hallmark of science. 
My “very happy” might be a “7”, but someone might mark the same level of happiness a 9. It might be stable across time, but it’s not interpersonally comparable.

Still, I agree with the overarching message: positive psychology, like all good psychology, is science.

3. I wished for more science and less personal stories and conjectures

Sometimes I felt Seligman was going too off tangent, both with his personal stories, or personal conjectures.

He could have cut out some parts, or at least he should have he could wish he had differentiated more between what was science, and what was his personal speculation.

I wished for more certitude

Seligman says:

This may mean that we inherit a “steersman” who urges us toward a specific level of happiness or sadness

The boldened part is mine.

And I boldened because I asked myself: it may or it does?

This is the crucial question I was seeking an answer to. I wished he had been more definitive. Even if there was no answer, I feel he should have been more precise here.

4. Underestimates childhood trauma

I was surprised Seligman went as far as he did in denying that childhood trauma has any effect on adults.

It felt to me like that truly underestimated the potential impact that bad parenting can have on their children.
After all, if parenting mattered so little, then why would Seligman dedicate several chapters to parenting in this same book, as well as spending so much effort in his own parenting?

5. Emotion hydraulics is not fully untrue

Seligman calls the idea that bottled up emotions will grow and fester the “emotional hydraulics theory”.

In more polite terms, he says that’s unscientific drives.
He uses anger as an example.
When you vent your anger you grow angrier, not calmer.

He is right. That one on anger is a popular -and wrong- self-help myth.

Seligman also says that emotions left to themselves will dissipate. And even there, he might be right.

However, it is also true that some emotions should be expressed.
The feeling of having been mistreated, for example, can fester if left unexpressed. 
Resentment also festers, and it can harm your relationships with others and your ability to work effectively.

6. Did we need to pitch “Positive Psychology” against “Old Psychology”?

Says the author:

(…) This thesis is a perfect example of the most fundamental difference between Positive Psychology and psychology as usual.
“Negative” psychology holds that its observations about basic human nastiness are universal, even though its observations may emerge from societies that are at war, in social turmoil, or struggling with poverty and are made on individuals who are troubled or seeking therapy

I don’t see the need of pitching Positive Psychology against “psychology as usual”, which later becomes “negative” psychology. 
That’s nonsense to me. 
Plus, Seligman saying that siblings rivalry does not exist if parents will spread enough love, sounds a lot like a perfect condition that is more likely not to take place, than to take place -I imagined a white suburban family with the mother can allow herself to stay at home with the children-.


  • Too many topics

Authentic Happiness ranges from optimism, to attachment styles, to running effective relationships, to the meaning of life.

At times, it feels like too many topics, and only loosely connected.

  • Haughty tone

I found some of the passages to be a bit too haughty and scornful.
Towards Freud for example.
Or sometimes towards the readers, when he reminds us that for the layman reader there is only one single equation allowed, and he begs us to bear with him -as if readers were too stupid to understand equations?-.

Or towards the relationship literature and Gottman. He recommends “The Relationship Cure” and “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work“, and then he says “while not a goldmine, the manuals do contain some rich veins”.
I thought that was a bit unfair towards a man, Gottman, who has provided so much wisdom on what works in relationships. 

And finally, towards a 19 years old kid who shot himself.
He introduces him as a Darwin award for wanting to play Russian roulette with a semiautomatic (for non-Americans: a semiautomatic always chambers any round in the magazine, so you can’t play Russian roulette because it always shoots).
I think that kid didn’t deserve to be called “idiot of prudence”, considering he died on the spot and he was just 19. 
It was just bad taste, in my opinion.


  • Great analysis on attachment styles

I have read plenty on attachment styles, starting from the most popular “Attached” to several researchers.
And yet, Seligman manages to review the whole literature in a few paragraphs, delivering both a great summary, and much new -and important information.

  • Great overview of positive psychology

There are still a number of books I need to explore on positive psychology but, so far, this might be the best overview of the discipline.

  • Practical and truly helpful

Seligman says that, contrary to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of “Flow“, he wanted to write something practical.
Well, he certainly did. “Authentic Happiness” is packed with terrific insights on becoming a happier and more optimistic person.

  • Wonderful take on win-win and collaboration

Albeit off-topic, I loved Seligman’s theory of “evolution towards greater good”.
Starting from a speech from Robert Wright, author of “The Moral Animal”, Seligman says that civilization is progresses as it progresses towards more games of win-win among the individuals. 

I tend to agree, and win-win is one of the foundations of this website. Also see:


“Authentic Happiness” is a glorious book of Positive Psychology.

The best I have read so far, and it provides the best overview of the disciplines.

It’s very good both in terms of scientific accuracy, and in terms of practica self-help wisdom.

Before “Authentic Happiness”, frankly, I was not too happy with my experience of Seligman’s work. 
The audiobook version of “Learned Optimism” felt like a huge ripoff, super short and mostly about his online quiz. And “Flourish” was just average.

Authentic Happiness, instead, is the worthy book of one of the fathers of Positive Psychology.

Check the:

or get the book on Amazon

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