Share Button

Get Happy

With a mix of science and self-help, Martin Seligman shows you how.

By Rob Hirtz

AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS: Using the New Positive Psychology 
to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
By Martin P. Seligman, Faculty
New York: The Free Press, 2002. 
321 pages; $26.00 (hardcover); $14.00 (paper). 
Order this book

Although Martin Seligman’s latest work, Authentic Happiness, is a “self-help book,” it is quite a leap beyond the norm of that genre. Seligman is first and foremost a rigorous scientist. From the late 1960s to the 1980s, he was among the most admired experimental psychologists in the world. But for the past 15 years or so, he has abandoned the lab cages for human experimentation. And the reader of Authentic Happiness is one of those subjects.

As you read, you can chart the progress of your “happiness quotients” by completing the book’s dozens of diagnostic questionnaires, or register on a Web site,, which provides an easier vehicle for test-taking—and will even calculate your results for you.

The work is separated into three parts. The first part sets out definitions of happiness and then addresses the key question, “Can You Make Yourself Lastingly Happier?” The majority of the book answers this question, by leading the reader step by step along Seligman’s yellow brick road to greater happiness. The first step is achieving “Satisfaction About the Past.” Seligman holds very few psychological “truths” to be sacrosanct. So, for example, in the “Past” section, Seligman turns Freud upside down by recommending methods and actions designed to “recraft” a more satisfying past. Next comes how to evaluate your level of optimism or pessimism, followed by immediate steps to make yourself happier in the present and the future.

The second part of the book, “Strength and Virtue” is the most important diagnostic section. Seligman and his colleagues spent years doing cross-cultural research, from ancient to current works, to discover “ubiquitous virtues” embraced throughout the world. They ultimately identified six: wisdom and knowledge, courage, love and humanity, justice, temperance, and spirituality and transcendence.

This difficult winnowing process required the abandonment of many laudable “non-ubiquitous” virtues, as Seligman notes, such as “wit in Aristotle, thrift in Benjamin Franklin, cleanliness for the Boy Scouts of America, and vengeance to the seventh generation in the Klingon code” (Obviously, they took their cross-cultural mandate seriously). Seligman’s group then identified 24 signature strengths of character that help people across the globe achieve the six virtues. The most daring postulate in the book is that by identifying and amplifying your strongest “signature strengths” (for example, love of learning, prudence, humility) you can lastingly increase your levels of happiness.

The third section covers how to utilize your signature strengths at work, for general personal satisfaction, to amplify love, and to identify and bolster the signature strengths of children—which can provide “vaccinations” against pessimism and depression, and make kids happier and more productive.

Authentic Happiness is the first major appearance of the “public face” of a movement in its infancy, Positive Psychology. An outgrowth of Seligman’s presidency of the 160,000-member American Psychological Association, Positive Psychology was, at its birth, the brainchild of Seligman and two other brilliant psychologists, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Ray Fowler, conceived when they vacationed together with their families in January 1998. To oversimplify this movement, the goal of Positive Psychology is to expand the field from its decades-old, myopic focus on remedying human weaknesses and illnesses toward scientific investigations that focus on building human strengths and positive emotions.

That’s one aspect of Authentic Happiness that provides readers with an extra tingle: you get the feeling that you are being let in on a wonderful secret—that right now, talented scientists who previously concentrated on devising ways of making miserable people less miserable are using their scientific skills to prove the efficacy of methods which can help “average” people grow emotionally stronger and happier.

Authentic Happiness is also entertainingly written. The contrast of a hard scientist taking on the rather lofty abstractions involved with the topic of happiness gives Seligman’s book a unique flavor and power. Another contrast that lends a dynamic tension to the tone of this “happy work” is that Seligman’s own disposition is far from naturally sunny; in fact, he has described himself as a “dyed-in-the-wool pessimist.”

In recounting a particularly difficult situation in 1997, he writes: “I’ve talked myself out of hope and into a panic, and I am not in touch with any of my own resourcefulness. I am a hideous example of my own theory…” Because of Seligman’s natural skepticism, his quest to discover tools to build strengths and achieve greater happiness occasionally rises to gratifying heights, when he manages to overcome his fears, like the one described above.

But Seligman is a nimbus cloud with a sense of humor, particularly when recounting the personal case histories of himself and his family, which pepper the book. His writing about increasing the strength and optimism of children is truly important work, which has been wending its way through the psychological and educational community for years. 

Seligman also gives readers insights that it’s actually his wife, psychologist Mandy Seligman, who has inspired many of his epiphanies about building resistant happiness in children. For example, Seligman writes about the decision to have newborns sleep in their bed, “But, as with most of our childrearing enterprises—Mandy wanted four kids and I wanted none, so we compromised on four—Mandy prevailed.” 

Authentic Happiness is just the beginning of lots more prevailingly optimistic, scientific psychology to come, which will make you happier—and Martin Seligman can prove it.

Rob Hirtz C’80 is a former mental health consultant to the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and former government and public relations consultant to the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania. He profiled Martin Seligman in the January/February 1999 issue of the Gazette.

The Beauty of the Place

Witold Rybczynski’s Palladian Pilgrimage.

By Beth Kephart

THE PERFECT HOUSE: A Journey with the Renaissance Master Andrea Palladio
By Witold Rybczynski, Faculty 
New York: Scribner, 2002.
266 pages; $25.00 
Order this book

On a fateful day in 1537 or 1538, a young stonemason by the name of Andrea di Pietro dalla Gondola came to the attention of Count Giangiorgio Trissino, a linguist, scholar, poet, and nobleman who was in the midst of remodeling a villa in Vicenza. Trissino had power. He had connections, fame, a reputation, and a plan “to introduce the progressive culture of Rome to the young men of his native Vicenza.”

Somehow or another, that young stonemason became a candidate for Trissino’s mentoring. Somehow or another, he found himself in the possession of borrowed books, in the swirl of conversation about Roman architecture and Vitruvius, and in the company of Trissino’s friends, who introduced Andrea to new places, new ideas, and brand new ways of thinking. Somehow or another, he both evolved and emerged.

Over time, of course, the stonemason named Andrea matured into the architect known as Palladio. Eager to learn, to draw, and to design, by all accounts charming as well as gracious, Palladio evolved an aesthetic that eventually inspired countless facsimiles around the world. The English architect Inigo Jones introduced Roman and Italian Renaissance architecture to Britain in the early 1600s. Thomas Jefferson was a fan of Palladio’s work. And American Palladianism is a widely recognized style, not only in the residential architecture of Virginia and the Carolinas, but in churches, banks, and the great portico of the White House.

The Perfect House, the 12th book by Witold Rybczynski, the Meyerson Professor of Urbanism and Real Estate, takes its readers on a tour of the Palladian villas of Italy. At least partly inspired by Goethe’s command that, “You have to see these buildings with your own eyes to realize how good they are,” Rybczynski’s purpose, with this book, is to weave the little that is known about Palladio’s life into a travelogue of sorts that documents and evaluates the standing villas. Rybczynski himself journeys from villa to villa, reporting on the commission, the client, the floor plan, the materials, and whatever can be gleaned about Palladio’s design philosophy and ambitions.

It’s not always an easy fit—the small personal diary outtakes on the contemporary fare of local restaurants, say, interspersed with the architectural history, theory, and biography—but Rybczynski is such a careful and informed guide, such an enthusiastic presence on the page, that the book is a pleasure to read. Not only that, but the book informs. By stepping readers through every accessible villa, Rybczynski presents a clear case for both the “rules” of Palladian architecture and the inventive, thoughtful way that their maker consistently broke them.

The villas of Palladio signal a brand new era of “domestic architecture,” Rybczynski suggests, when “an architectural language previously reserved for temples and palaces was introduced to residential buildings. Much of the potent architectural symbolism associated with the home, whether it is the grand porch of the stockbroker’s mansion in Connecticut or the modest pediment over the front door of an American Colonial bungalow, is derived from these sixteenth-century structures. It all starts with Palladio.”

The few glimpses history affords of Palladio himself are seductive ones. Rybczynski presents him as a man who cares enormously about a building’s relationship to its site, as a man obsessed with details, and as a man who is capable of leading his clients toward good design without relying on arrogance or bullying. Likewise, Palladio is a man who is never so thoroughly satisfied with his own ideas that he doesn’t later challenge them himself and a man who, in addition to making fastidious drawings of proposed villas, also negotiated with contractors, kept the books, chose the building materials, and oversaw the villas’ construction—all for the kind of rather lousy wages that architects are all too-used to getting paid today.

Palladio is also a man, marvelously enough, who never seemed to lose touch with his own origins in the building profession, at least according to the eye-witness Paolo Gualdo, who provides this rare, animated view of the man in action:

“He kept [his workmen] constantly cheerful, treating them with so many pleasant attentions that they all worked with the most exceptional good cheer. He eagerly and lovingly taught them the best principles of art, in such a way that there was not a mason, a stone cutter, or carpenter, who did not understand the measurements, elements, and rules of true architecture.”

The final chapter of The Perfect House is dedicated to the eight days Rybczynski, his wife, and two friends actually live in a Palladian villa by the name of Villa Saraceno at Finale di Agugliaro. This is, Rybczynski tells us, an early villa to which not a lot of fame is attached. Still, living in the house would give Rybczynski a chance, he says, to know the place through all hours of the day and night, through the many moods that a house is meant to finally contain. It would also give Rybczynski a chance, he hoped, to uncover Palladio’s secret—to answer, in other words, “What made his houses so attractive, so imitated, so perfect?”

That question, as it turns out, is not so easy for Rybczynski to answer. He knows, he says, that the house “feels good” and that the “peasantlike roughness of the materials contrasting with the elegantly carved stone details has something to do with it; so does the commodiousness of the rooms and their pleasing overall proportions.”

But there must be more to it than that, and as Rybczynski walks the house, walks the grounds, sits and watches the light of the rooms fade and burn, he tries to put his finger on an answer. Finally Rybczynski concludes that the beauty of the place has something to do with ratios, equilibrium, something akin to harmony.

“He pleases the mind as well as the eye,” Rybczynski writes. “His sturdy houses, rooted in their sites, radiate order and balance, which makes them both of this world and otherworldly. Although they take us out of ourselves, they never let us forget who and what we are. They really are perfect.”u

Beth Kephart C’82’s fourth nonfiction book, One Precipitous Leap, will be released by W.W. Norton next spring.

Briefly Noted

A selection of recent books by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest to the University community. Descriptions are compiled from information supplied by the authors and publishers.

TIKAL: Dynasties, Foreigners, and Affairs of State
Edited by Jeremy A. Sabloff C’64, Faculty.
Santa Fe, N.M.: School of American Research Press, 2003. 
419 pp., $24.95. Order this book
Our understanding of ancient Maya civilization has changed significantly in the 30 years since the University Museum began its work at Tikal. In this book 12 leading scholars address questions crucial to Maya archaeology, including the timing of the foundation of the Tikal dynasty and the first indications of sociopolitical complexity. Dr. Jeremy Sabloff is the Williams Director of the Museum and the University Museum Term Professor of Anthropology.

A Theory-Based Study of Adaptation to Change

By Lorraine Tulman GrN’84 and Jacqueline Fawcett.
New York: Springer Publishing, 2003.
188 pp., $46.00. Order this book
This book describes the results of the authors’ NIH-funded longitudinal study of more than 200 women during pregnancy and postpartum. Their “Theory of Adaptation during Childbearing” views this period as a time of profound change requiring considerable adaptation. This book discusses many aspects of pregnancy and postpartum, including physical and psychological health, functional status, family relationships, and employment. It also includes implications for practice and policy recommendations. Dr. Lorraine Tulman is an associate professor of nursing.

LOVE STORIES: A Literary Companion to Tennis
Edited by Adam Sexton C’84.
New York: Kensington Books, 2003. 
256 pp., $21.95. Order this book
For years, great authors have lauded the storylike quality of the game of tennis. Written by classic novelists like Vladimir Nabokov and John Updike, as well as rising young stars, many of the stories in this collection dramatize issues of class and status as well as explore love, race, and sex. Adam Sexton is the editor of two anthologies, Desperately Seeking Madonna and Rap on Rap.

BROWN SKIN: Dr. Susan Taylor’s Prescription 
for Flawless Skin, Hair, and Nails

By Susan C. Taylor C’79.
New York: HarperCollins, 2003. 
294 pp., $24.95. Order this book
At last comes a book devoted to helping people of color enhance and protect the health and beauty of their skin, hair, and nails. Director of the Skin of Color Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York, Dr. Susan Taylor explains what makes skin of color beautiful—yet vulnerable. She offers strategies for satin-smooth skin; tips for choosing and applying makeup; and advice on how to style hair safely as well as how to recognize the danger signs for skin cancer. Taylor, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, maintains a private practice in Philadelphia and lectures worldwide on dermatology and ethnic skin disease. She is an attending physician at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt as well as at Pennsylvania Hospital.

KAFKA’S TRAVELS: Exoticism, Colonialism, and the Traffic of Writing
By John Zilcosky Gr’98.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan/ St. Martin’s Press, 2003. 
289 pp., $59.95. Order this book
Franz Kafka had an ongoing preoccupation with popular travel writing, exotic fantasy, and travel technology. This book re-reads the writer’s major works through the lens of fin-de-siecle travel culture and argues that Kafka’s modern metaphorics of alienation emerge from his complex encounter with the utopian travel discourses of his day. Dr. John Zilcosky is assistant professor of German and an associate member of the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto.

By Esther Hershenhorn CW’67. 
Illustrations by Rosanne Litzinger.

New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. 
32 pp., $16.95. Order this book
It was a very nice Sunday in the middle of spring when Rudie Dinkins heard his Mama say that Rudie’s sitter, Mrs. Gittel, had the flu. With his mother’s help, Rudie cooks a batch of chicken soup using Mrs. Gittel’s secret ingredient: sweet memories of their friendship. Esther Hershenhorn, a former teacher and the author of two other children’s books, lives in Chicago.

By Jay Rogoff C’75.
Montgomery, Ala.: River City Publishing, 2003. 
97 pp., $20.00. Order this book
In these often wry poems Jay Rogoff pays affectionate attention to the “melodies and counter-melodies” that make up our daily lives, writes Ronald Wallace, the author of The Uses of Adversity. “From the warm and engaging narratives of his Jewish immigrant ancestors … to a celebration of ritual, return, and redemption, this collection resonates with compassion, humor, and honesty.” Rogoff teaches at Skidmore College.

By Jonathan Carroll C’99.
Moorestown, N.J.: Striking Presence 
Publications, 2003. 96 pp., $6.95. Order this book
Julius Carmichael is an 11-year-old African-American boy who is excited for his first day of school, because for the first time he will have a male teacher. Things take a turn for the worse when Julius meets his new classmate, Beatrice Willingham, and he must then figure out how to salvage what was supposed to be the best day of the year. Jonathan Carroll is a third-grade teacher. 

Through the Looking Glass

By Stephen Glass C’94.
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
342 pages; $24.00.

In the years since it was revealed that he fabricated many of his articles for The New Republic and other publications [“Through a Glass Darkly,” November/December 1998] Stephen Glass has kept publicly silent. Then, this past spring, he emerged for an interview with 60 Minutes timed to the release of his first novel, The Fabulist, the first-person tale of rising young journalist “Stephen Glass”—a Cornell grad, by the way—who tampers with fact, is caught, and must make a new life for himself.

Response to the book, and speculation on Glass’s motives for writing it, have not been kind, which the author seems to have anticipated. Toward the end, he has the host of a media talk show ask the fictional stand-in for Charles Lane, The New Republiceditor who finally exposed the real Glass, if he knows what “Glass” has been doing. He answers that they haven’t spoken, and adds:

“[I]n all of my years of journalism I’ve never known someone as greedy as Stephen Glass. You watch, somehow he’ll turn his disgrace into a windfall. Maybe he’ll wait it out for a while, but eventually there will be the appearances on talk shows and he’ll write a book too, talking about the stress he was under, and how sorry he is. Trying to blame it all on anyone but himself.”

“So, you think he might actually write again?”

“I hate to say it, but I do.”

Share Button

    Related Posts

    Shattering Violence, Shimmering Prizes
    Sundered Union
    Briefly Noted

    Leave a Reply