1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
My father was a prisoner of war in Japan during World War II, so I’ve always had a special interest in Frankl’s moving account of his own experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz. This book describes these experiences and then his approach to therapy (logotherapy) which is based on his assumption that our deepest desire is to find meaning and purpose in life. I now believe that Frankl’s striking ability to surmount his concentration camp experience was due, in part, to a an unusually strong genetic predisposition toward hope and optimism.
2. Authentic Happiness by Martin E. P. Seligman
Marty Seligman, Ph.D. is the founding father of Positive Psychology with an extraordinary bio which you can peruse at www.authentichappiness.org. In this book he integrates theory and research to map out how to lead a life of positive emotion, engagement, and meaning. Use this book in conjunction with the assessments at www.authentichappiness.org. (If you don’t already have Marty’s Learned Optimism or The Optimistic Child, then I recommend adding these classics to your positive psychology library as well.)
3. Handbook of Positive Psychology edited by C. R. Snyder and Shane Lopez
Published in 2001, the “Handbook” was the first systematic attempt to bring together the leading scholars in the, then, emerging field of positive psychology. Begins with an historical overview by Seligman. Ends assertively with “The Future of Positive Psychology: A Declaration of Independence.” Essential for any positive psychology library.
4. A Psychology of Human Strengths: Fundamental Questions and Future Directions for a Positive Psychology edited by Lisa Aspinwall and Ursula Staudinger
If I were teaching a positive psychology class, this would be the textbook. The editors ask chapter contributors (including Daniel Kahneman, Walter Mischel, Robert Sternberg, Carol Ryff, and Alice Isen) to comment on the “potentials and pitfalls” of a psychology of human strengths.
5. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification edited by Christopher Peterson and Martin E.P. Seligman
The CSV, sometimes dubbed the “UnDSM is *the* must-have book for anyone interested in coaching and positive psychology. Each chapter is devoted to one of 24 Strengths–strengths such as curiosity, wisdom, zest, forgiveness, and gratitude. Once you or your clients take the VIA Strengths Survey at www.authentichappiness.org, look up your signature strengths in the Handbook.
6. Positive Psychology in Practice edited by P. Alex Linley and Stephen Joseph.
This is another must-have book for coaches. Rich with edited chapters by some of the leading figures in positive psychology who outline the implications of their work for practice. Filled with interesting ideas. In its foreword, Marty Seligman writes: “This volume is the cutting edge of positive psychology and the emblem of its future.”
7. Toward a Psychology of Being by Abraham H. Maslow
Maslow has been called the grandfather of positive psychology. In this classic work (first published in 1968), Maslow writes about values, growth, well-being, peak experiences, and self-actualization.
8. The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte
From the country’s preeminent resilience research team, psychologists Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte. This book is superb. With an impressive integration of theory and research, it offers seven practical strategies that have been proven to increase people’s capacity to overcome adversity, negotiate daily obstacles, and bounce back from life-altering events. Highly recommended.
9. Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton
This is a must-read if you work with clients in business settings. Marcus Buckingham (author of First, Break All the Rules) and the late Don Clifton, Chair of the Gallup International Research & Education Center), call for a “strengths revolution” in the workplace. Their premise is that employees and managers can be much more effective at work and in life by building on their strengths (rather than working on their weaknesses). Their “StrengthsFinder” survey provides a nice complement to the VIA Strengths Survey.
10. The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller
This is the most provocative book on the list. Evolutionary Psychologist Geoffrey Miller presents a compelling argument that character strengths such as creativity, humor, kindness, and leadership were shaped through sexual selection.
Finally, in the spirit of Positive Psychology, let me add an 11th book to my top ten list–a classic that should be on your bookshelf:
11. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
As you know, “flow” is the state in which we are so completely absorbed in a task that we barely notice the passage of time. According to Csikszentmihalyi (and the research he presents), the more challenging, flow-inducing activities we can introduce into our lives, the happier we are. Among other excellent books by Csikszentmihalyi is Finding Flow and Creativity. He also wrote a book with Howard Gardner and William Damon called Good Work that explores what it means to do socially responsible, excellent work.
A personal note: At one time, I thought “flow” was an either-or state. You were either in flow or not in flow. In fact, it’s more accurate to view it as a continuum. On a ten-point scale, you could be at four, at seven, at nine, and so on.
The first time I heard Marty (Seligman) speak, he shared a mnemonic to help remember how Csikszentmihalyi’s name is pronounced. Touch your “cheeks.” Then think (drugs) “sent me high”. So it’s “cheeks-sent-me-high” I still can’t spell his name, but I can finally pronounce it.