Author: Lynda Wallace

Publisher: Three Sixty Five, 2013

ISBN: 0988982315

ISBN-13: 978-0988982314

Interestingly, this little book was published by a company specializing in materials for corporate training programs. That raises the question: Are there lots of unhappy people in the workplace? Lynda Wallace should know; before becoming a Certified Positive Psychology Coach, she was an executive with Johnson & Johnson. Her responsibilities included Band-Aids. This book addresses much deeper wounds.

Permission to seek happiness and fulfillment has ancient roots. The term “positive psychology” originates with Abraham Maslow, a psychiatrist in the movement away from simply treating mental illness toward understanding adaptive techniques that would allow people with mental illness to become more emotionally fulfilled. This began in the 1950s, but the academic discipline was more recently created, in 1998. The intent has been to justify this approach with evidence. For example, Wallace cites a landmark study in 1986 of 678 Catholic nuns ages 74-106, to understand how a life of service might have influenced their health. One discovery is that those who lived longest had expressed optimism in their profiles written when they joined their orders decades earlier.

Wallace focuses on the practical aspects of what has been discovered through research, notably that people who are positive have better relationships and that happy people are less likely to develop chronic diseases. Significantly, happiness (positive psychology) is a cause of more happiness. Wallace simply and clearly outlines these ideas without making them “rules” to live by. Rather, she shares information from the growing body of research. She says: “Here are the four things very happy people do” and not “Do these four things and you will be happy.” This attitude of humility and wonder distinguishes her book.

There are 17 topics in four “sections” that build on the concept of positive psychology. In the beginning, she describes what optimistic people do, and offers tips on cultivating optimism. She demonstrates how the word “yet” added to negative thoughts can change the outlook. (“I don’t have any friends at my new school…yet.” She identifies ways to “short-circuit” anxiety. She writes that it is important in marriage to turn toward each other to listen and become engaged in what the other is saying, and not to always argue a point but be open to influence.

Pursuing goals is a major topic that recognizes how easily we give up on what we want most. To avoid this, she recommends developing two skills. One is gaining psychological distance in order to base decisions on deeply-held values and long-term goals. This counters popular wisdom to live in the moment. The other skill is overcoming procrastination. If these seem obvious, you will appreciate the way Wallace dissects attitudes and behavior that keep us from finishing the tasks we give ourselves. In the final chapter of advice she differentiates among “comfort zone,” “stretch zone” and “panic zone” in reaching for our goals.

A Short Course To Happiness has been an Amazon best seller in the category of self-help books.

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