Book review: Flourish, by Martin Seligman

Eighty-two percent of Brits are not flourishing, say researchers. Emma Mahoney is doubtful that the wellbeing expert's latest work will do much to address that.

by Emma Mahoney
For anyone steeped in the world of positive psychology who followed the debate a decade ago when happiness, rather than GDP, was the byword for measuring a government's success, US psychology professor Martin Seligman is the president-elect. He wrote Authentic Happiness in 2002, which became the handbook for believers, while the UK's Professor Richard Layard, a New Labour thinker, took up the debate here and persuaded government to look at maximising wellbeing rather than gross domestic product. Happiness rankings sprang up everywhere, showing how well companies, schools or public bodies were doing, and then, suddenly, it all went a bit quiet.

The chilly winds of austerity blasted through the US and Europe, and all people were concerned with was keeping their job. Nobody was doodling smiley faces at work any more.

Well, you may be pleased to hear that, despite the lull, the positive psychologists have not been idle. Indeed, as Seligman's Flourish shows, quite the opposite. They have been optimistically applying the 'science' all over the place.

It is nine years since Seligman published Authentic Happiness, and he begins Flourish with a new definition for how schools, government and the military should improve themselves. It appears the word 'happiness' is all wrong, indeed Seligman 'detests' it, along with the word 'authentic', which he describes as 'a close relative of the overused term "self" in a world of overblown selves'.

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