The field of psychology tends to focus on disorders, but Martin Seligman’s field is Positive Psychology, and he teaches about it through the book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Science of Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. An interesting read with lots of studies – and suggestions for exercises you can try.
Lessons for Yogis:
1) We can observe that we have come up with many shortcuts to feeling good – like chocolate and television – which we don’t need to drop altogether, but we do want to feel we earn our positive feelings: “The belief that we can rely on shortcuts to happiness, joy, rapture, comfort, and ecstasy, rather than be entitled to these feelings by the exercise of personal strengths and virtues, leads to legions of people who in the middle of great wealth are starving spiritually. Positive emotion alienated from the exercise of character leads to emptiness, to inauthenticity, to depression… the positive feeling that arises from the exercise of strengths and virtues, rather than the shortcuts, is authentic.” (p8) So that’s what is meant by authentic happiness. The eight limbs of yoga are certainly exercises of strength and virtues, and a study in positive psychology themselves!
2) One of the big jobs that yoga and mindfulness do for us is that it slows our minds down: “Mindful attention to the present occurs much more readily in a slow state of mind than when one is racing future-mindedly through experience.” (p110)
3) Off the mat, we can use mindfulness to “amplify” things that we find enjoyable: “Savoring and mindfulness happen by sharing your pleasures with someone else, by taking mental photographs, by self-congratulation, by sharpening your perceptions (particularly using perspective shifting), and by absorption. Basking, giving thanks, marveling, and luxuriating are all means to amplifying pleasures.” (p112) This way, nothing is habit, but everything is fresh and enjoyable.
Amplification is a great discussion leading into our out of Savasana. Many of the concepts in this book are great to mention in a yoga class. But it’s a great introduction to the field of positive psychology for anyone! I got this book from the library, after hearing about positive psychology and Seligman’s work from Jon Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis. If you’re interested in reading Authentic Happiness, there’s an inexpensive kindle edition & very inexpensive used copies. There’s an abridged audiobook, too