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77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2012
I think that emotion regulation and rational / reasonable optimism (`a healthy and responsive rainy-brain as well as a healthy and responsive sunny-brain') are very important but, until now I haven't been able to find a serious popular book on the topic. Mostly I find magical thinking or an elaborate system of recommendations with some hand waving, and I can't understand how and why they work. Here, I finally get a theory with plenty of supporting scientific evidence to start considering it seriously.

Let me begin with a word of warning for the self-help reader. This book is for you if you are interested in the `why is it good' and `how it works' questions. This is not a `do-it-yourself optimism-cookbook'. In this book you will find descriptive definitions of emotion regulation and rational optimism and theories + empirical studies that show why it is good for you and what happens when it is not there. You will find information about experiments and therapies that induce optimism bias but there is no step by step recipe.

I liked reading about scientific theories and experiments rather than getting a pep talk with a to-do list. I liked the balanced view - that you need two healthy systems, not just blind optimism. I liked the emphasis on engagement and `doing' rather than just `thinking'. I liked the non-linear model of a feed-back loop, triggered by very small cognitive biases (positive or negative), that generates significant dispositional differences. It fits well into a thought framework of systems and complexity. So this book gets 5 stars for content.

As for execution, I'd say no more than 3 stars. Most of the time I had to do some work to follow the ideas and get them organized; otherwise, it would have been just another book with some interesting anecdotes. Some of the discussion was practically irrelevant though very interesting (most of the chapter on genetics), and some was just unclear and convoluted (the end of the last chapter on flourishing and happiness). I would have liked to see more organization and focus.

One last piece of advice - don't buy the audiobook. I had to work hard to tune out the narrator. Her presentation style would have been fine if I was five years old and she was reading a fairy tale, in this book it was irritating.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2012
I bought this book because I am by nature pessimistic and I was hoping to get some insights into how to change that, based on solid scientific research rather than just someone's pet theories. I have read a lot of books on psychology and subscribe to Psychology Today, so many of the concepts in this book about the structure of the brain and the neurological basis for emotions and their impact on personality were not new to me. However, I still found it mostly interesting reading about the science behind it all in more detail.

Over all though, I was disappointed in the limited recommendations to come out of this book towards becoming more optimistic. This was confined to one short, final chapter and didn't really tell me anything new - meditate, practise focussing on the positive things, use mindfulness. There was a description of some psychological interventions which entailed subconscious brain retraining using responses to images, but no information was provided as to how to gain access to that type of therapy. This method has apparently been used successfully to treat PTSD sufferers, and the book suggested that it could be readily delivered via the Internet, but it seems this may not be available to the general public as yet.

The book read as though its intention was to explain the science to an average, well adjusted reader, rather than to someone specifically seeking help for pessimistic thinking. There are a number of short self evaluative tests in the book (the marking of which could have been better explained), and it is clear that the author thinks it just as likely that the reader will have an optimistic result as a pessimistic one. So I don't blame the author for what seems to be a misrepresentation on the cover - "How to retrain your brain to overcome pessimism and achieve a more positive outlook". This is probably something the publishers added to help the book sell. Well, it worked, for me, but others who are less interested in the science and more focused on self help might have felt ripped off.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2013
This is a science book written by a scientist. This is not a how to book. If you are interested in the science of how minds created optimism and negativity and have no interest in learning what to do about it, then this is an ok read. There are much better books on brain science, such as The Brain That Changes Itself. The author doesn't talk about much that I haven't seen elsewhere. The discussion of CBM is interesting, but light. The part about the woman who had her amygdala removed is interesting, but hardly helpful to the reader who isn't interested in radical surgeries.

The writing style is average. Not particularly engaging, and occasionally too complicated to follow.

I got this book based on the claim on the cover that it would provide tools, and it did not. The author was obviously overruled by the publishers marketing department.

If you are looking for tools to retrain your brain, look elsewhere.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2012
This is "more of the same" reporting on all the studies that have been done about neuroplasticity or optimism. There are at least a dozen books out there that have already covered this material. Fox describes the differences between optimists and pessimists but other than generalized references to cognitive brain training or mindfulness techniques, there's nothing really useful here to identify how to retrain your brain.

And I'm with the other reviewer. The audiobook's narration is annoying.

The PR people who titled the book were right on target. A book that actually does what this title promises would be a great book. But that's not the book Fox actually wrote.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2013
I felt that I was becoming a rather pessimistic person. I saw this book touted on CNN.com and immediately purchased it; I was so excited to learn how to "retrain my brain to overcome pessimism." In the book description RIGHT HERE on Amazon it says word-for-word: "Fox describes a range of techniques--from traditional cognitive behavioral therapy to innovative cognitive-retraining exercises--that can actually alter our brains' circuitry". I read the book TWICE to make sure I didn't somehow miss those parts. They're not in there.

Thanks "Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain" now I'm even MORE pessimistic.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2013
Interesting reading, but no really good tips on self improvement.

So fine to read for brodenening your knowledge, but don't count on any good life change strategies.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2012
The cover is the best part of the book. The reader is bored to tears with all the scientific studies that aren't useful. Would have been easier to just spill it out on 2 pages. Went to book sale.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2013
This book reads pretty much like a college literature review of research, nothing particularly engaging or really even new depending on how well you are already familiar with the topic of how our brains work and tend to view the world (psych student here so this was like a refresher of various courses I have taken in the past). Description of the book is misleading, this book doesn't spend barely any time talking about "retraining" your brain to become more optimistic and it would have certainly been more interesting if it had taken that route instead. It gives the basic laundry list of things you can do to try to be happier... meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, etc but beyond that, you are left to your own devices on how to become more optimistic. So no new information and you can save money by just googling research on optimism/pessimism.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2012
To be in a positive state of mind and to be hopeful are essential to our well-being, but it can sometimes feel difficult to achieve these states especially when confronted with challenging and unfortunate life events that need our immediate attention. In this book, Elaine Fox argues that by getting involved in rewarding activities (no matter how small or big) that impact our lives in personally meaningful ways, we can boost and encourage an optimistic outlook on life that can in turn enable us to achieve our goals more efficiently. Elaine discusses classical as well as state of the art evidence from psychology and neuroscience research that has taken us further in understanding how our brains interact with the environment, and how these interactions are influenced by evolutionary pressures, our personality traits, genetic make-up, and past life events. Most remarkably the book discusses new and exciting evidence on how our brains have the most amazing capacity to be retrained, through new and healthy experiences, to deal more effectively with anxiety and depression, and enhance our well-being and resilience to stress. The book explains how our brains are constantly changing and responding to positive experiences and information, no matter how young or old we are, and it is this remarkable plasticity that can shape and strengthen the neural pathways of our sunny brains in coping with distressing thoughts and feelings.

Once you start reading this book you will find it difficult to stop. The book takes you through an adventurous and exciting journey that you will find yourselves wanting to know more with every new chapter. The author's style is contagiously engaging and the research evidence is discussed in a most accessible and approachable manner without reverting to simplification.

By far, the most selling aspect of this book is in its impact. The book is written in such a way that it can benefit and target a wide audience, for scientists and non-scientists alike. Having spent many years conducting research on anxiety and depression myself, I was pleasantly surprised to see the extent to which I was personally affected by the book, and how I found myself practicing the many ways that helped shape an optimistic outlook in my own life. This book is a triumph of an implicit but forgotten legacy of the power of the human mind and the heights of what it can remarkably achieve in the most challenging situations.

Nazanin Derakhshan, PhD
Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck University of London, UK
[...]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2013
This is a great wrap up of the science behind optimism and pessimism with well referenced data.

It does not contain any application though, so if you are looking for a 'how to', this isn't it.

It would be a great starting point for someone learning about neuro plasticity and the science of happiness, but those with some knowledge may find it a little basic.
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