The Good Life
Phew y'all, this book is challenging!! It reads like introspective lecture notes which, I suppose, was Martin E. P. Seligman's goal. He did not aim to write a self-help book nor a novel. He is a pioneer of positive psychology and is currently the director of the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center. As such, this book is designed to make you think and give you tools with which to examine your current state of happiness, optimism/pessimism, strengths, and several other facets of your compilation. "Gee Sarah, you usually write about some aspect of leadership. What does this have to do with that?" So glad you asked!
"It turns out that adults and children who are put into a good mood select higher goals, perform better, and persist longer" pg. 41. Therefore, as leaders we should be actively seeking our own happiness and encouraging the happiness of those we are charged with leading. Seligman is not suggesting you seek fleeting, temporary happiness. He is pushing you on a hunt for "the good life" so you can then model it for others. He tells you right up front that "the good life is using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification" pg. 13. He then goes on to guide you in identifying what signature strengths are in general and, more acutely, what yours are.
I thought I knew what constituted a strength but Seligman successfully got me to rethink those notions. He believes true strengths are global: "They are valued in almost every culture. They are valued in their own right, not just as a means to other ends. They are malleable" pg. 11. Twenty pages are dedicated to describing the twenty-four signature strengths he and his team identified in their research. They range from strengths I had previously considered (critical thinking, bravery, kindness) to some I would not have thought of (appreciation of beauty and excellence, zest, caution) probably because I fell to the pitfall of confusing talents and strengths. The twenty-four strengths are grouped into six defining categories: Wisdom/Knowledge, Courage, Humanity/Love, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence.
Intrigued by the partial survey provided in the book, I took the full VIA Survey of Character Strengths on the authentic happiness website HERE. I felt that my top five results did indeed reflect what I would consider my signature strengths. One stood out to me because it did not seem to fit its category at first - Honesty/Genuineness/Integrity which falls in the category of Courage. I went back and reread Seligman's definition of this strength to make it come together: "You are an honest person, not only by speaking the truth but by living your life in a genuine and authentic way" pg. 147. Now that got me thinking! What does that say about our society today that honesty falls under the courage category??? My mind flooded with a movie real of ads I have seen for plastic surgeries, body enhancement procedures, air brushed magazine covers, impossibly muscled fitness ads, and many more partial truths emblazoned across every media medium I use. Why???
Courageous honesty is not a strength that is in everyone's top five. It is easy to get caught up in our fast paced world and forget about being true to ourselves because we are trying to achieve the life styles of others swamping our senses every day. "Remember that happiness is not a competition. Authentic happiness derives from raising the bar for yourself, not rating yourself against others" pg. 14 (emphasis added). Keeping in mind that "the Good Life" according to Seligman is one in which you use your signature strengths every day, I want to recommend a time swap to those of you maybe feeling as if you succumb to social influences often.
Identify five hours of your week when you routinely focus on the "happiness competition" society encourages and instead devote this time to focusing on your signature strengths. (I am tweaking the time suggestion Seligman makes to lawyers in the book.) Do something, or many different things, for five hours every week that is solely dedicated to your blend of signature strengths rather than getting hung up on how you rate compared to a complete stranger. I do not mean do things that keep you in your comfort zone. I mean do things that uses your strengths in a different way than your norm and encourages you to grow. After doing this for about a month, add more time! Imagine if your whole day leveraged your signature strengths?? That is what Seligman is driving at; that is the good life!
Now for the next level. Imagine yourself as that leader, in any arena of your life, that helps others live their good life by fitting them with tasks that allow them to use their signature strengths. How would the environment of life arena change? Maybe you have experienced a leader like this. What about their approach makes them stand out to you?
The conversation on this thought provoking book will continue October 11th. Don't have the book yet?? Pick one up from Amazon and join the discussion. I really love hearing your thoughts and comments. Please leave them below or email me or reach out on my socials.