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February 08, 2008


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Clifford Sosis

Hello Mark,

Psychologists, such as Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, seem to measure meaning and engagement independently of positive affect successfully. So your comments seem ill-informed. Can you blame Seligman and other positive psychologists that meaning, engagement and positive affect tend to accompany each other? How do you suggest we measure meaning and engagement?

The ancients knew a thing or two, but we should acknowledge that they didn't know everything we know now. When they were right, it was on the basis of empirical evidence, but this body of evidence almost entirely consisted of common sense and anecdotes, which is why alot of the things they believed were simply false. They came to inaccurate, but intuitively plausible conclusions, conclusions we might be tempted to accept today. We must test these conclusions. The intuitive conclusions that are correct, coincidentally, will be supported by good science. The false, though intuitive conclusions, will be rejected.



Vernon said: "More taxes supposedly works because it incentivises us to work less - though paradoxically, it also turns out that happier people actually work more, because they want fewer days off."

I'm very doubtful this is true about all 'happier people'. They may want to spend more time with the grandkids. Need to do some Seligmanian statistic crunching?

Also, we are working more, and are much wealthier, than fifty years ago. But no happier. So, assuming wealth increased our happiness, might it not be working more that is the problem?

Mark Vernon

Hi -

As it happens I have 'bothered to crack' Authentic Happiness, and I suppose another way of putting the complaint is that though they say happiness is not just positive emotion but meaning and engagement, the so-called measurements of meaning and engagement just let positive emotion in again through the back door. That's because meaning and value aren't very amenable to measurement and so it is positive emotion you end up measuring.

Incidentally, I also think it's quite likely the ancients did know the things Seligman lists, though they would have expressed them differently. There was, for example, a huge debate about the role that luck played in the good life - externalities you might say. And the whole Athenian education system was geared towards the crucial age of 10-12.


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