Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.
— Dr. Martin Seligman
Last week I started reading Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism:How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. He is one of the originators of a field called Positive Psychology. It looks at the factors which contribute to happiness and positive mental health, as opposed to those which contribute to mental illness. Seligman likes to joke that, prior to this type of study, the field of psychology was half-baked, exploring only the darker side of our nature.
January seemed to be a good month to start this type of reading, given the degree of depression that is prevalent post-holiday, mid-winter. Statistically, January 24th is the most depressing day of the year. Coincidentally, it was the day I picked up Learned Optimism. Intrigued by Seligman’s other titles, I also bought Authentic Happiness, and his latest book, Flourish.
Although each of us has a natural set-point when it comes to our own level of happiness, according to Marci Shimoff in Happy For No Reason, Seligman’s studies show that, for most of us, depression is largely caused by how we think, rather than by genetics, hormones, or the difficulties we’ve experienced. The good news is that we can learn to change how we think about our circumstances, and especially about our traumas and setbacks.
The topic of happiness is gaining popularity as we learn the degree to which we are in control of our moods, despite our circumstances. I’m fascinated by this stuff, and thought I’d blog about my takeaways from each of Seligman’s books. You’re invited to go on the journey with me.