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on November 30, 2006
I have always been very skeptical of all "self help" books, believing they were mainly fluff and a waste of time. On a whim I thought I would buy this book since it was written by a psychologist and clinical researcher, and claimed to have evidence that optimists actually do succeed more and accomplish more.

As stated earlier, the author is a psychologist and clinical researcher who has spent the majority of his life studying learned helplessness and optimism. After many clinical trials, he has been hired in many "real world" situations (including Met Life Insurance and sports teams) to improve results and test optimism and success. The results are astounding. The book describes the results using these real-life projects. As evidenced by these studies, optimism helps persons succeed in business, sports, politics, health, school, and literally all walks of life.

The book demonstrated over and over again how I was handicapping myself by being negative and a pessimist. I am a very logical person and it took a book like this, written factually instead of emotionally, to open my eyes to pessimism. Since reading this book, I have dedicated myself to being an optimist, and I must say I have already noticed major differences in my life. I am succeeding at things I never would have even attempted before, and I have become very resilient in non-favorable situations. I have surprised myself over and over again.

Not too many "life changing" books come along, but this book was definitely one for me. If you are a pessimist, this book can transform your life. If you are average or only slightly positive, this book can improve your life greatly. Do yourself a favor and read this book!
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on September 15, 1999
The thing that consistently surprised me about this book was the way that the author was able to provide extensive scientific verification for his claims. Most "self-help" books have anecdotal evidence at best to support their hypotheses. This book solidly supports its conclusions by means of numerous formal studies. Moreover, some of the material is very counter-intuitive. Attitudes one would have assumed were optimistic turn out to be pessimistic, and vice-versa.
Seligman shows repeatedly where actual, testable predictions have been made based on his notions of optimism/pessimism, and the predictions have turned out to be well-founded. This requires careful, systematic definitions of terms, which he provides.
Equally interesting was Seligman's analysis of the consequenses of optimism and pessimism, and his demonstration that optimism can be learned, with beneficial results that extend well beyond "feeling good."
I highly recommend this book.
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I am a psychologist myself, and ever since i first began studying psychology, I have been fascinated by the work of Dr. Seligman. Once I started working as a therapist, I purchased and this book to facilitate my work with clients. Dr. Seligman is a talented, amusing, and engaging writer who presents an extremely pursuasive review of his research into the effects of learned optimism on mood, performance, health, etc. Because his research includes areas as diverse as including health (showing greater breast cancer survival rates for those who are more optimistic), sales success (proving that optimistic salesman are more successful), and sports/politics (providing evidence that both sports teams and political candidates are more likely to win when optimism is increased), his methods are beleivable to even the most die-hard psychological skeptic.

Dr. Seligman explains your attribution style--that is, how you explain your successes/failures--can have a major impact on mood as well as all of the other dimensions mentioned above. He provides the reader with a concrete, easily understandible model to asses their own thinking style, emphasizing that being able to monitor your thoughts is the first step towards changing them. Finally, he presents a simple plan for changing though patterns which involves easy to implement steps. This book will definitely help you to better understand how your thought patterns affect your mood and how to go about making changes in order to live a happier, healthier life; highly recommended.
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on November 24, 1999
I am a commercial real estate broker. Some years back, when I was involved in apartment rentals, and shortly after the first edition of the book was published, I decided, in an effort to enhance my production, to try the "Adversity-Belief-Consequences-Disputation-Energization" technique the author described. I was nothing short of amazed at the results. My production shot up! I had the two best months ever in the business. Perhaps luck was involved, but I have repeated the process numerous times over the years, particularly when I am suffering from an emotional lull, and invariably, something positive happens to me, in either my business or personal life. There is something almost eerie about this, and frankly if I didn't experience this myself, I doubt I would believe someone else recounting the same experience. I can only assume that by requiring you to LOGICALLY come up with reasons for thinking positively (rather than the b.s. along the lines of "I'm getting better and better every day")this manifests itself in small, subtle but detectible changes in your behavior. I highly recommend this book as a "thinking man's" self-help book, for people who are too well-educated to respond to meaningless self-talk.
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on August 26, 2001
I bought this book when my mother died in 1995 and never read it. Now 6 years later I finally got around to reading it after a string of toubles had me down. For me, Seligman gave me back the faith I had lost in the validity of my own time-tested coping skills. Achievement, a high bias toward action, a low propensity to blame things on myself, and above all, an avoidance of ruminating about problems and events. I had been led to believe by people I respect that only medication and endless hours in therapy would help, dispite the fact that they never have. After reading the book I think Seligman is right, this is a lot of self-serving bunk on the part of the psychology industry, except for really severe and biologically based disorders. I found his treatment of the subject of pessimism and optimism very balanced and his rigourous research approach definately shows through in his writing. I appreciate the time the book spent explaining the research that supports Selegman's theories as I am a skeptic, especially of 'pop' psychology books written for mass comsumption. The book demonstrates that his is solid clinical and experimental psychology and not pop psycho-babble. Without this comfort level I would have tossed the book. Bad info is worse than none. It is toxic. This is good info and was greatly appreciated. Thanks 'doc'!
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on June 26, 2007
I've not found a more effective or compelling book than this for understanding the psychology of happiness, or a more practical method for battling onslaughts of adversity.

Seligman gives us a useful mnemonic, ABC, to help us remember his method of learned optimism. A is for Adversity: trouble hits. B is for Belief: you start explaining to yourself why this is happening -- mostly incorrectly -- based on your habitual assumptions and beliefs. C is for Consequence: you feel stressed, anxious, and depressed as your emotional response system kicks in.

So, for many of us, when something bad happens our pessimistic explanatory style tends to pick the worst possible explanation for our worry -- the most permanent, the most pervasive, and the most personal. And our inner voice keeps telling us that we are a failure, we'll always be a failure, and we'll be a failure in all things.

This sort of pessimistic response could ruin your life -- and Seligman gives us some examples where it has. But there is a better way. All beliefs are subject to question. And when we dispute our assumptions -- often formed in childhood -- we usually find that they are not well-founded. The facts are on our side.

You can use the ABC method to see things as they really are. Then you are ready to fight back. D is for Disputation: you dispute your habitual beliefs and look for alternative explanations. E is for Energization: you observe and nurture the energy that arises naturally when you throw out your assumptions and start to follow a new course.

The beauty of this approach is that you don't need to do anything except remove the obstacles that you've put in your own way. The mnemonic is a little contrived, of course, but ABCDE is easy to remember and easy to use. Consequently, I've used this method to counter many adversities -- which isn't to say that I've become, at last, an optimistic and happy person. I'm sure I'll always be a realist. But the act of disputation never fails to open up new possibilities. In fact, I find that D is all I really need to remember: Dispute or Distract -- either dispute your internal assumptions and pessimistic outlook, or distract your mind out of its cycle of worry.

A pessimistic reaction is usually an overreaction. And a pessimistic reaction doesn't make you happy. So there's no reason not to try adopting a more optimistic explanatory style, if at all possible. This book tells you how and it's destined to be a classic of the self-help literature because it provides a scientific basis for understanding the genesis of unhappiness, including the root causes of anxiety and depression, and then it gives a practical approach to solving this condition.

Positive psychology began with learned optimism, and to my mind, along with Csikszentmihalyi's book, Finding Flow, this book is the best place to start in the quest for happiness, because anything that works to improve our state of mind must address the underlying tendency we have in modern cultures to worry more than is good for us, talk ourselves into depression, and mire ourselves in passivity and inactivity.

Of course, learned optimism is not for everyone. Whenever I suggest to my kids that they use optimism, they groan. The last thing they want to hear is my interpretation of the ABC method. Or, perhaps it's for everyone to discover for themselves in their own way. But, when I'm hit with an adversity, I, at least, need an approach like this to prevent me from falling into a too-pessimistic frame of mind.

Seligman worked hard on this book and he's done a great thing. Learned Optimism has seeped into the language and promises to improve our prospects for happiness.

Graham Lawes
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on July 25, 2003
I received this book several years ago and can say it literally changed my life. It gives great advice on how to deal with habitual pessimism and the free-floating anxiety that often accompanies it. I use the techniques in the book and they really do work. My copy is dog-eared and tattered from lots of use!! Thank you Martin Seligman!!!!!!!!
I cannot recommend the audio version. I got it several years after buying the book, thinking it would be a nice refresher. It was so badly done I was amazed. The abridged version of the book is read in a very boring style and LOTS of minutes are wasted in a detailed explanation of how to do a written self-test. I remember thinking "I can just read the instructions, why are they reading all the instructions out loud?" Horrible.
So definitely BUY the book and benefit from it, but SKIP the tape version.
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on August 11, 2011
Most of the reviewers who gave bad reviews did so for similar reasons. I will rebut those reviewers here.

1. "Not enough pages dedicated to 'how to'"

It is true that there is only one small chapter of (plus a few more chapters of specific applications) 'how to.' But I think this is a good thing! The solution to pessimism is surprisingly simple, and the author (wisely) doesn't dilute the message in his how-to chapters. Short, simple solutions should be preferred when it comes to self-help. Complicated solutions are just too difficult to remember and practice in real life.

It's short and sweet, and that's the way self-help should be. So go ahead and skip to the final chapters if you want. The rest is up to you to PRACTICE the techniques in the book.

2. "Get some other book instead"

No, get this one first!

Here's the #1 problem with other self-help books: Self-help is like diets-- they fail mostly because we give up on them, sometimes before we even start! And why do we give up on them? In a large part, we give up because we are pessimistic! Deep down inside, we question whether doing X,Y and Z will really help us achieve what we want. So we give up on that particular self-help method, then it's another trip to the bookstore for the next miracle cure that we will also give up on.

Seligman's work addresses this disfunctional thinking directly. In fact, his research began by studying laboratory dogs that were so downtrodden that, despite repeated electric shocks, they were too "lazy" to step off the grid. These dogs were psychologically "helpless."

Have you ever been so downtrodden that you forgot implement self-help ideas such as: meditating, accessing the power of now, positive visualization, NLP, etc etc etc? Yes, that's the problem and it's a big one.

So this book will complement (add value to) any other self-help book you get because it will give you the motivation to follow through with that book.

By the way, many people recommend "Awaken the Giant Within" instead of this one. I read "Giant", yet I think I was too pessimistic to implement it! So first things first!

Besides, I think this book will eliminate the need of many of those other self-help books.

3. "Too much history and science blah blah"

Those early chapters on the history of the research play a crucial role in your learning.

First, feel free to skip over the early chapters to the how-to sections if you find the early chapters boring or irrelevant to you. I skipped to the last part before deciding I wanted to read the whole thing. Those few chapters are worth the price!

Second, since implementing the techniques takes WORK, readers need a reason to believe these techniques will help them. Seligman provides people with reasons to believe by: Explaining how it works, explaining why it's better than other theories, by building up his own credibility, and, (hopefully) creating some excitement. Since pessimists tend to be realists, Seligman gives plenty of real reasons to believe he's right. I found the early chapters truly inspiring!

Third, by reading the chapters on the history and science of his work you will gain insights into how you can implement his techniques more thoroughly. You will gain a greater sensitivity to the things that undermine your optimism.

Fourth, his discussion of the science and history of his ideas is absolutely fascinating! I was riveted. It has pure entertainment value as well as teaches you some interesting psychology. Give those chapters a decent try. If you find yourself indifferent, then go ahead and skip forward.

4. "I would rather be a pessimist"

Some reviewers suggest that optimists are deluded and harmful to society. Seligman spends considerable time addressing these concerns. He compares the benefits and costs of both optimism and pessimism, and even talks about the judicious use of pessimism. (Though the benefits of optimism are huge in comparison to those of pessimism.)

Contrary to what one review said, Seligman's techniques do not involve foregoing personal accountability. (He is very clear on that point!)

He advocates a "flexible optimism" that offers the best of both worlds of optimism and pessimism.

IN SUM: It's the best psychological self-help book I've ever read (and I've read a bunch!)

And here's some advice if you read this book: The first thing you should apply your new-found optimism techniques to is optimism itself! Be optimistic about how optimism can help you. Then PRACTICE by applying the techniques on even the most trivial good or bad things in your life.

Good luck.
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on October 23, 1999
There's a reason this book is selling so well. Seligman has been able to whittle down the tremendous amount known about the subject into three fundamental principles. There is a test in the book so you can find out in what area you are weak. I did it, and so did my wife, and we both were able to pinpoint a specific change in our way of describing negative events to ourselves that really made a difference to both of us. The fact that Seligman narrows it down to a few very effective principles makes the material much easier to understand and apply. He doesn't try to tell you everything. He focuses on just what will make a difference.
I'm the author of the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works, and I'm an expert on optimism, and this book is the one I recommend more often than any other. Seligman is a careful, conscientious scientist and his conclusions are rock-solid.
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on August 16, 2005
I have always been very skeptical of all "self help" books, believing they were mainly fluff and a waste of time. On a whim I thought I would buy this book since it was written by a psychologist and clinical researcher, and claimed to have evidence that optimists actually do succeed more and accomplish more.

As stated earlier, the author is a psychologist and clinical researcher who has spent the majority of his life studying learned helplessness and optimism. After many clinical trials, he has been hired in many "real world" situations (including Met Life Insurance and sports teams) to improve results and test optimism and success. The results are astounding. The book describes the results using these real-life projects. As evidenced by these studies, optimism helps persons succeed in business, sports, politics, health, school, and literally all walks of life.

The book demonstrated over and over again how I was handicapping myself by being negative and a pessimist. I am a very logical person and it took a book like this, written factually instead of emotionally, to open my eyes to pessimism. Since reading this book, I have dedicated myself to being an optimist, and I must say I have already noticed major differences in my life. I am succeeding at things I never would have even attempted before, and I have become very resilient in non-favorable situations. I have surprised myself over and over again.

Not too many "life changing" books come along, but this book was definitely one for me. If you are a pessimist, this book can transform your life. If you are average or only slightly positive, this book can improve your life greatly. Do yourself a favor and read this book!
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