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flourishHow can one live one's best life? That's the question tackled in Flourish by Martin Seligman, the foremost proponent of "positive psychology." The school holds that instead of dealing with negative life events as they come, a person should be trained to look for and cultivate the positive in their lives to be stronger against adversity. Exercises in the book include thinking back at the end of the day to three things that went well over its course, then enumerating the reasons why they went well, and taking an online personality inventory administered by Seligman's school that will supposedly identify your top 5 strengths. You're then encouraged to find ways to use those strengths for one hour every day, which will lead to a more gratifying life. He also discusses how to engage constructively with others - how to continue conversations with positive, constructive reactions that elicit more sharing from the other party rather than negative remarks that shut communication down.

All well and good, but I had substantial problems with Seligman's delivery. For one thing, he writes like he's writing ad copy - generating starred lists of marvelous things his Positive Psychology Program can do for you; copiously mentioning his personality inventory by its full name, as if to drill its brand into your head, whenever it's mentioned. I can't help but feel suspicious when I'm being so overtly sold to. He's easily dazzled by wealth and power (for those, ostensibly, are the hallmarks of a successful life, you see) and expects you will be too, so the book is copiously littered with his encounters with the rich and famous (complete with their CV, Ivy League alma mater, and conspicuous real estate holdings). I certainly take issue with his critique of PTSD in the military, which suggests that psychological pain felt after trauma is a mere character flaw. And he constantly refers to Barbara Ehrenreich, author of a book on the limitations of positive thinking, as Barbara "I Hate Hope" Ehrenreich, which is ridiculously childish.

I really do think Seligman's on to something with his basic ideas, and I did find his exercises helpful, but he's his own worst enemy when it comes to making his point, and the book's way too padded with fluff and sales tactics. I'd actually recommend taking a look at it if you're so inclined, despite its weaknesses - but do so through a library if you can, and keep a grain of salt handy.

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