Article Reviews, Related Interests

Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology, Happiness, and Life Satisfaction

I was watching this TED talk by Martin Seligman on positive psychology (link here). Martin Seligman is a Professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania and has written several books on happiness, optimism, and other related topics.

With my interest in trading psychology, I have also been going through various materials on positive psychology, how the different parts of the mind work together, and related material. Besides, I believe everyone’s ultimate goal is to be happy, so it’s a fun topic in and of itself, even if not connected to trading psychology.

A quick summary of the TED talk is captured below. There is also a very relevant article (link here) written by Martin Seligman that also summarizes his core points about the different types of happiness and how to have overall life satisfaction.

Free Tests to Measure Different Forms of Happiness and Identify Strengths

Three Types of Happy Lives

  1. The Pleasant Life
    • Lots of positive emotions and raw feelings of pleasure.
    • Problems
      • 50% heritable, and not very modifiable. Techniques can only contribute another 15-20%.
      • You get used to it very rapidly, tendency to quickly return to a stable level of happiness
  2. The Good Life (Eudaimonia)
    • Lots of ‘flow‘, complete absorption, and time stops for you. No raw ‘pleasure’ feelings.
    • This is experienced by knowing what your highest strengths and re-crafting your life (work, play, love) to use as much of them as you possibly can.
  3. The Meaningful Life
    • Knowing your signature strengths and using them in the service of something that you believe is larger than you are.

Interventions That Have Lasting Positive Effects

  • Beautiful day – Design a beautiful day and use mindfulness to savor it.
  • Gratitude visit – Think of someone (alive) who did something enormously important that changed your life in a good direction, write a 300-word testimonial, go and visit, and read the testimonial.
  • Strengths date – Have couples know their highest strengths and design a date where couples both use their strengths.
  • Philanthropy – Do something altruistic.

How Overall Life Satisfaction is Related to the Three Types of Happy Lives

  • The pursuit of pleasure has almost no contribution to life satisfaction
  • The pursuit of meaning has the strongest effect on life satisfaction
  • The pursuit of engagement is also very strong.
  • If you have both engagement and meaning, then having pleasure would boost overall life satisfaction.


There is a related TEDx talk by Shawn Achor (Harvard University) on positive psychology (link here). Quick takeaway below.

How to Create Lasting Positive Change

  • 3 Gratitudes
    • Each day, write down 3 new things that you are grateful
    • Brain starts retaining the pattern to start scanning the world for the positives first
  • Journaling
    • Journal about one positive experience that you have had over the past 24 hours.
    • Allows your brain to relive the positive experience.
  • Exercise
    • Teaches your brain that your behavior matters.
  • Meditation
    • Allows our brain to focus, reversing the current trend in society to multitask.
  • Random acts of kindness
    • E.g. write one positive email praising or thanking one person in your social support network.


There is a related article (link here) which highlighted the results of a study by Fredrickson, Cole, et al., 2013. The study concluded that

  • Doing good (flow, eudaimonia) and feeling good (pleasure) have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion. Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds.
  • In those with higher levels of ‘doing good’ happiness, there was a stronger expression of antibody and antiviral genes. In contrast, people with higher levels of feeling good happiness had weaker expression of antibody and antiviral genes.
  • We can make ourselves happy through simple pleasures, but those ‘empty calories’ don’t help us broaden our awareness or build our capacity in ways that benefit us physically. At the cellular level, our bodies appear to respond better to a different kind of well-being, one based on a sense of connectedness and purpose.

Very interesting conclusions!



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