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on May 30, 2002
The psychologist who wrote this book developed and validated a new measure of individual differences in personality: The Defensive Pessimism Questionnaire. The key is the different strategies that individuals use to manage or harness anxiety, moods, and motivations (adaptively or not). The theme is "No one size fits all people." Are you a defensive pessimist, a hopeless pessimist, a self-handicapper, a strategic optimist, or an unrealistic optimist? How do these different types of people get along at work, in love, as family and friends, or at play? Drawing on original psychological research conducted 1985-2001, Professor Norem helps us answer these questions about personality and individual differences.
I really liked the way the concluding chapter talks about prospects for change and growth, with a focus on tolerant understanding of self and others, and on optimal psychological health for different individuals. For people like me who value diversity and growth, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking is an impressively helpful contribution. I suppose this book is a bit controversial in the way it challenges the "everyone should be an optimist" chant of the American 'positive psychology movement' but that is what makes the book so creative and original. I find the author's realistic approach to recognizing and valuing individual differences to be insightful and even liberating.
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on January 14, 2003
What could be more All American than "the power of positive thinking" or "positive mental attitude"? Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill sold millions of books in the twentieth century, and inspirational self-help books about happiness are a big trend today. So it may surprise many people that Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, is just quoted in Time magazine saying that about half of us have the genetic predisposition that gives the pleasant state of simply feeling happy, and the other half of us do not. That other half has the tendency to experience anxiety, worry, and negativity more often, and perhaps more easily, than pleasantly happy feelings. A similar point is made by Dr. Lykken in his book about happiness. This research makes sense to me, in that it seems a sensible scientific generalization that also fits with my own life experiences with a variety of people. So my reading of Dr. Norem's book "The Positive Power of Negative Thinking" is that it is a book for the 'other half' -- those who often tend toward the negative -- as well as a book that explains pessimists and optimists to each other.
The idea of 'defensive pessimism' according to the author, is that it is "a strategy that can help anxious people harness their anxiety so that it works for rather than against them." That seems like a good thing to me -- adaptive and constructive -- since research shows that positive thinking exercises don't help everyone, and sometimes make things worse. Some people need a different strategy to be at their best. Being a defensive pessimist seems a lot better than being a depressed, hopeless pessimist, and it may be more natural for some people than unsuccessfully trying to be a "Don't Worry, Be Happy" optimist. Personally, I score near the middle of the optimism--pessimism test in the book, so reading it has helped me to understand people I know who are at opposite ends, better than I did before. The main point I got out of it is that the decision to be made is not "Is the glass half full or half empty?" but "Which half of people do you or the person you are dealing with belong to -- the optimistic or the pessimistic?" because different things seem to work best for different people. That is a new perspective that I find informative and useful, so I am positive toward this book about negativity.
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VINE VOICEon March 2, 2003
While billed as a "contrarian" view, Norem's book is really a more nuanced look at what constitutes pessimism, optimism and the difference between them and hope. Consequently, she identifies highly functional people who are none the less pessimistic. These individuals deal with their preexisting anxiety by using the strategy of "defensive pessimism." Norem discusses in detail the advantages and disadvantages of this strategy, but shows how those people predisposed to handling their anxiety via defensive pessimism can be harmed by being optimistic. Norem spends a good deal of time making the important distinction between the defensive pessimist and other forms of pessimism that are truly debilitating.
"The Positive Power of Negative Thinking" is not a 12-step program. Instead, it is a highly accessible discussion of personality types and strategies for dealing with the anxiety that modern society brings.
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on November 28, 2002
I enjoyed reading this book, with its fascinating personality test for individual differences in optimism -- pessimism and its interesting case histories. PPNT is also the most helpful psychology book I have read in a long time -- new insight into myself, people I know, and how we do (or don't) get along. The author's idea of "constructive pessimism" as an adaptive cognitive strategy for feeling better and living better is a great contribution to the psychology of everyday life. Not everyone has an optimistic temperament, and many of us struggle with worry, anxiety, and/or depression. Dr. Norem's book has helpful insights into thoughts, feelings, and real life.
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on June 2, 2003
Dr. Julie Norem's book is a welcome addition to any bookshelf about thinking. However, which book is most helpful at a particular time, varies because of the person's emotional state and philosphy of life. Optimists will enjoy Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. Dr. Seligman explains the advantages and disadvantages of optimism, and contrasts them with pessimism. Optimal Thinking by Rosalene Glickman, Ph.D. is a first-rate book for realists who want to make the most of any situation. Optimal Thinking is necessary for peak performance. Those interested in creativity will find Dr. Edward de Bono's books beneficial, particularly Lateral Thinking and Serious Creativity. Thinking is fundamental, complex and important. This book supplements the current library of thinking books, specifically because it provides a constructive perspective for pessimists.
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on October 13, 2001
In this engaging and intriguing book, Julie Norem tells how to make your pessimism work for you. She explains why some people have a personality style called "defensive pessimism", how this coping strategy works well for them, and why it should be seen in a positive light. A psychologist who has done extensive research in this area, Norem gives many case examples and research findings which illustrate and demonstrate how pessimism can be a legitimate and constructive approach to life. As a lifelong pessimist who has never been able to follow the constant advice to "look on the bright side", Norem's book along with psychologist Barbara Held's excellent and complimentary book, "Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching: A 5-Step Guide to Creative Complaining", have taught me I don't have to continue trying to suppress or stamp out my pessimism. Rather, I can now embrace it and use it constructively. These books have also helped me see the legitimacy of my pessimism and explain its merits to those who are constantly telling me to be more positive or to have a nice day. I'll be giving both books to fellow pessimists and oppressive optimists for Christmas!
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on October 31, 2002
I saw this book discussed in the New York Times last Sunday, and that reminded me it had been covered in the Times' Magazine review of the most influential ideas of the year 2001. I agree that this is an important book in psychology -- the insight that individuals differ in optimism and pessimism, and in whether or not simple approaches to "positive thinking" will or will not be helpful to them, is a significant breakthrough. What, me worry? Yes, I do tend to worry about possible negative outcomes and events. For me, this book improved my life because "The Positive Power of Negative Thinking" explains 'constructive pessimism' and how to enjoy a more adaptive and productive life in spite of normal anxiety. The personality quiz in the book helps you to understand yourself and people you know, and how best to relate to different types of people.
I do wish optimists would read this book too -- the case studies in each chapter help optimists and pessimists to understand each other better and even to appreciate each other. The author identifies herself as a personality psychologist, and she does a great job of showing how understanding individual differences in personality is the foundation for authentic happiness.
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on November 18, 2003
I found that the psychologist who wrote this interesting book provides significant understanding and help for those of us who just are not the naturally upbeat type of "Don't worry, Be happy" optimists. The concept and quiz for the personality style "Defensive Pessimism" support a positive interpretation of individual differences in optimism and pessimism, and emphasize the adaptive value of being a person who thinks through worst-case scenarios and uses anxiety to motivate and carry out effective actions. I like the balanced approach in this book that helps the reader understand both the dangers of unrealistic optimism and the virtues of constructive pessimism. Here one can find realistic psychology for real people that is based on the author's 20 years of original research.
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on August 30, 2003
This has been wasted money for me. I buy a lot of self-help and psychology books and seldom buy anything that I later find almost useless. While this book has good content, it is simply not useful.
Sure, it helps you understand your pessimism a bit better, it even tries to convince you that it's not so bad. And maybe it isn't.
My problem with this book is the fact that it is extremely full of redundancies. There are paragraphs that area almost equal to previous paragraphs. This would have resulted in a great 50 page book, but all these pages are full of wordy redundancy. It reads like a poorly compressed and summarized academic work.
Worse, it does not supply you with a method or a line of action. I don't mean a one-size-fits-all program, but general guides on how to optimize your life considering that, well, you might be a bit different.
This is after all, a book about Pessimist and Anxiety, and I did not find how to "perform at my peak". Not at all. When I finished it, I was sure I have gotten good information out of it, but was it worth all the time and money? Unfortunately, no, it wasn't.
I believe Julie Norem has the potential to come up with quality work on this area, but it will take more effort, better research and definitely much clearer and succint writing. There is no merit in taking 2 paragraphs to say exactly the same thing you can say in one sentence, which in fact, you had already said before.
So beware. If you read it as an academic work, I have no comment, but if you consider yourself too pessimist and anxious sometimes and are looking for ways to understand yourself better and optimize your life, well, I do not recommend this.
The most useful book I have found so far regarding anxiety was the suprising "Diagonally parked in a Parallel universe" by Signe A. Dayhoff. I strongly recommend it, it has been one of the books that has helped me.
As for pessimism, well, it depends, to me personally, books that helped have been "The magic of thinking big", the old title by David Schwartz, plus the other old classics, including everything by Dale Carnegie. You can also try "Feeling Good" by Burns (lots of redundancy and too long, but has some useful information). You should not expect to become radically different with those, but at least they can provide you with a few practical steps and not just random loose thoughts.
Yes, pessimism and anxiety do have their place in life. But so what? Is that all I was supposed to get from all these pages, Julie?
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on January 20, 2003
Everybody I've ever known probably would have to agree that I am an Optimist. My new boss turns out to be the pessimistic type. I was feeling criticized and confused and de-motivated, to say the least. So I checked out this book, which I never would have noticed otherwise. It has reasonable explanations and advice about optimists and pessimists getting along better. My boss would agree with the parts about what is good about pessimistic thinking, like thinking through worst-case scenarios in advance (I bet his favorite book is that worst case survival guide). So far I think I understand him and pessimistic thinking better -- not quite sure I'm ready to say I appreciate them yet, but I know more about different people than I did before.
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