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In the poem "Richard Cory" written by Edward Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) and first published in 1897, the first two stanzas identify Cory as "a gentleman from sole to crown, /clean favored and imperially slim" who "fluttered pulses when he said, /`Good morning,' and glittered when he walked." Then in the two remaining stanzas, Robinson adds

"And he was rich--yes, richer than a king--
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

"So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head."

In The Pursuit of Perfect, Tal Ben-Shahar explains that many people (as well as fictional characters) fail to lead a full and fulfilling life because they do not allow themselves "to experience the full range of human emotions" and thus limit their capacity for happiness. They need to give themselves the permission to be human...to ground [their] dreams in reality and appreciate [their] accomplishments." Throughout this book, Ben-Shahar refers to negative perfectionism simply as perfectionism and to positive perfection ism as optimalism. "The key difference between the Perfectionist an the Optimalist is that the former essentially rejects reality while the latter accepts it...as a natural part of life and as an experience that is inextricably linked to success."

Ben-Shahar organizes his material within three Parts: First, he presents his theory and explains how to accept failure, emotions, success, and reality; next, he focuses on applications of the theory with regard to optimal education, work, and love; and then in Part 3, he asks his reader to participate in a series of ten meditations: Real Change, Cognitive Therapy, Imperfect Advice, A Perfect New World, The Role of Suffering, The Platinum Rule, Yes, but...The Pro-Aging Industry, The Great Deception, and finally, Knowing and Not-Knowing. It is soon obvious that v cares deeply about helping as many people as possible to recognize a painful paradox: "when we do not allow ourselves to experience painful emotions, we limit our capacity for happiness. All our feelings [e.g. both terror and serenity] flow along the same emotional pipeline, so when we block painful emotions, we are also indirectly blocking pleasurable ones. And these painful emotions only expand and intensify when they aren't released. When they finally break through - and they eventually break through in one way or another - they overwhelm us," as they did Richard Cory.

Who will derive the greatest value from reading this book? First, those who are struggling to recognize, understand, and cope with their own "destructive perfectionist tendencies" and/or those of a family member, friend, or acquaintance. For me, one of Ben-Shahar's most important points is that each person is both a Perfectionist and an Optimalist. This suggests one of Carl Rogers' most important points: The happiest people are those who are most comfortable living in their own body, people who (in Ben-Shahar's words) "give themselves permission to be human." This is what Walt Whitman acknowledges in Song of Myself:

"Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

All of us are large and contain multitudes. The challenge is to recognize and understand this complexity because only then can we accept it and, in some instances, celebrate it as Whitman does. When concluding his book, Ben-Shahar shares some thoughts that will also serve as an appropriate conclusion to this brief discussion of it: "Perfectionism and optimalism are not distinct ways of being, an either-or choice, but rather they coexist in each person. And while we can move from perfectionism toward optimalism, we never fully leave perfectionism behind and never fully reach optimalism ahead. The optimalism ideal is not a distant shore to be reached but a distant start that guides us and can never be reached. As Carl Rogers pointed out, `The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.'" I agree. However, for many of those who read this book, Tal Ben-Shahar offers invaluable advice on how to plan and then conduct their own journey of self-discovery.
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on April 13, 2009
I think the title of the book could be misleading for some people, as many wouldn't label themselves as perfectionists , Tal Ben Shahar proves in his theory that we all have struggles in perfectionism in one field of life or another which is very true to me. I prefer to call this book: The book of change, in which the author takes us into a journey of self reflections, self insights & subsequently a chance for a meaningful change only through the HARD WORK of sincere implementations of the exercises.
His unique writing style mingles philosophy & the best of academic research in cognitive psychology all together in a persuasive presentation. The exercises are persuasive enough because they all stand on the solid ground of empirical evidence.
What took me in awe were the closing 10 meditations, or better to call them the 10 wisdoms .
In conclusion, a unique work indeed, bringing a deeper and more mature level, for a more happier life.
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on April 12, 2009
From: [...]
Author & Book Views On A Healthy Life!

The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life (McGraw Hill/ Apr 2009) by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.

Author Tal Ben-Shahar is known for his Positive Psychology and upbeat lectures surrounding happiness. A Harvard graduate, he is also a champion squash competitor, winning both the U.S. Intercollegiate and Israeli National competitions. Ben-Shahar is also known for his bestselling book Happier. He began his search for the happiness while thinking about the subject, as a successful but unhappy athlete, and also as a successful but unhappy professional, leading him into the research of Positive Psychology.

Traveling abroad, giving international lectures has allowed the author to meet diverse groups of people, all in search of happiness. A common barrier coexisting in them all is "the aspiration to a life that is not just happier but perfect." The Pursuit of Perfect Ben-Shahar writes is about what perfectionism is and "about how to overcome this obstacle to a happier life."

Positive Psychology differentiates between positive (optimal) and negative perfectionism. Ben-Shahar points out that the perfectionist rejects failure, painful emotions, success, and reality. He limits himself with worry of failure, producing anxiety and procrastination. The optimalist however, accepts failure, painful emotions, success, and reality; he lives the full scope of the human experience. Though the optimalist may fail, he accepts the reality of the situation and moves forward.

Written in workbook format, the author suggests that readers stop and start with The Pursuit of Perfect, taking time to think about what he's read, apply the material, and complete the exercises at the end of the chapters. Referencing many specialists and researchers like himself, Ben-Shahar details seven pages of references.

Divided into three sections The Pursuit of Perfect explores the danger of perfection and the necessity of becoming an optimalist.

Part 1 The Theory--the need for accepting failure (think eating disorder sufferers), emotions (think depression), success (realistic goals), dealing with reality; mentions Viktor Frankl (paradoxical intentions) and David Barlow (worry exposure), Khalil Gibran (The Prophet--our capacity for increased joy).

Part 2 Applications--helping children attain happiness and success (mentions the Montessori school concept); taking optimalism to work (no-blame policies of the Israeli Air Force and U.S. Air Force; problems with micromanagement); finding love in the face of reality (Do you accept the flaws in your partner?)

Part 3 Meditations--focuses on the difficulties with releasing ourselves from perfectionism; cognitive techniques given; the need for self-love; pro-aging vs. the anti-aging lifestyle ("Those with a positive view of old age lived on average more than seven years longer than those with a negative view.")

Ben-Shahar relates several personal stories of reaching for perfection, living with emotional disequilibration, and parenting for relativity to the reader. His conclusion to The Pursuit of Perfect begins, "My name is Tal, and I am a Perfectionist," and the book concludes as "My name is Tal, and I am also an Optimalist." Perfectionism and its pursuit resides within many of us, perhaps hurting, distorting, and forcing rejection unfairly upon a life worth living. The journey toward Optimalism however, is viewed as a process or direction toward which one points his life.

The Pursuit of Perfect is a fascinating book, helping all of us discover what makes us tick, and in the end live life happier and more meaningfully.

5 Stars
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on June 11, 2009
I was expecting this book to be a rather bland take on a typical self-help theme, something along the lines of being providing excuses for those who are willing to put in the necessary hard work needed for excellence.

Wow. That was incorrect. Ben-Shahar starts by debunking the perfection as a goal (and perfectionism as a attitude), replacing it with the concept of "optimalism", optimizing outcomes against the constraints of reality. He does this fully and from many angles. And thus finding happiness outside of perfection

And then he takes the concept further linking it to deeper philosophical, emotional, and psychological concepts.

I had thought that the notion of abandoning the drive for perfection would be contradictory to my overall approach to life. Instead, I learned that the converse is true. And that has made this the most eye-opening book I've read in years.
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on October 5, 2009
It's easy to look at the title and think this is one of those "I'm okay, you're okay" sort of books. NOT the case!

Shahhar makes a compelling case that the enemy is not "perfection", but the attitude of "perfectionism," which robs accomplishment of its joy and always leads to dissatisfaction. The "perfect life" is attainable if you hang on to your Visions and keep a sense of balance and perspective in life.

Stylistically, this gets redundant at points. But the argument is compelling enough to be worth reiterating, even if the prose is repetitive.
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on September 6, 2009
You don't need to be a perfectionist to learn something valuable from this book.

I highly recommend Tal's "The Pursuit of Perfect", whether you're a perfectionist or not. He interweaves his wealth of knowledge of well-researched concepts with compelling personal experiences. The result is a very readable analysis of the dangers of perfectionism and an outline of a healthier alternative that he calls "optimalism."

The central idea is that being an optimalist is adaptive and healthy. Tal draws a link between healthy optimalism and the goal of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of optimal human functioning.
In his book, he refers to a continuum. At one end we have the extreme perfectionists who reject reality, failure (and success) and painful emotions, and are rarely satisfied. At the other end of the continuum are the optimalists who accept the realities of being human and the inevitable, mixed results that come with purposeful action. They've learned to appreciate "good enough.". There are shades of grey between these extremes on the continuum.

Throughout the book, in addition to research and information, Tal's practical "Time In" exercises, reflections, and meditations help the reader lessen the grip of perfectionism. Tal does not set up unrealistic expectations. No quick fix, no silver bullets. It takes time, hard work and regular practice. This book reminds us to allow ourselves to have a good enough life and to give ourselves permission to be human. So begins the journey of moving towards optimalism, and to a place of peace, satisfaction, and happiness.
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on February 3, 2016
 “Perfectionism and optimalism are not distinct ways of being, an either-or choice, but rather they coexist in each person. And while we can move from perfectionism toward optimalism, we never fully leave perfectionism behind and never fully reach optimalism ahead. The optimalism ideal is not a distant shore to be reached but a distant star that guides us and can never be reached. As Carl Rogers pointed out, ‘The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.”

~ Tal Ben-Shahar from The Pursuit of Perfect

Tal Ben-Shahar is quickly becoming my favorite author/teacher.

In fact, he might already be there. :)

As a former Harvard professor who taught THE most popular class in Harvard’s history (on Positive Psychology), he’s an incredible blend of brilliant thinker, passionate teacher, scientific realist and get-out-and-rock-it-dreamer. LOVE. It.

His first book, Happier, provides us with an inspiring snapshot on the science of happiness packed with wisdom and exercises we can immediately apply to our lives.

This book is all about understanding the perils of pursuing a life of perfection and offers an empowering alternative: the way of the “Optimalist.”

It’s one of those books that’s an absolute joy to read and a challenge to write a Note on because the book is basically one unending string of *really* Great Ideas.

Here are a handful of my favorites Big Ideas:

1. Perfectionism - vs. Optimalism.
2. Fault Finders - vs. Benefit finders.
3. Time to Fail More? - Seriously. Get on that! :)
4. Active Acceptance - & Choices and actions.
5. Appreciate - Two meanings.

So, let’s remember the Platinum Rule as we go out and rock our greatest Optimalist lives: “Do not do unto yourself what you would not do unto others.”

More goodness— including PhilosophersNotes on 300+ books in our ​*OPTIMIZE*​ membership program. Find out more at brianjohnson . me.
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on May 24, 2010
I think that the author's advice to try to be an 'optimalist' rather than a 'perfectionist' is wise and helpful. Perfectionism can indeed make you miserable. If I had read the book instead of listened to it, I probably would have rated it with 3 or 4 stars.

I can't give this CD set a good review, however. In general, I have trouble appreciating audio books, and this one is no exception. The author's ideas merit pondering, and it's difficult to ponder while listening to a book being read. You could pause the CD and 'ponder' but that doesn't come naturally to me, And of course the index, notes, and excellent bibliography are missing.

The main problem with the CD version is, however, the reader. His voice is didactic, and he takes the opportunity to sound snide and sarcastic whenever he can fit it in. I've looked at the book itself, and find the author's writing 'personality' to be gentle and humorous, but this didn't come across at all. I can't help but wish that Mr. Ben-Shahar had read the book himself. As a Harvard professor, he's probably an accomplished lecturer.
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I bought this book because I liked Ben-Shahar's previous book so much. Also the subject matter is fascinating and important. While I totally agree with the author's main thesis that we need to stop pursuing perfection and instead strive for optimalism, I simply did not think his presentation was that good.

This book suffers from what has become so common among non-fiction writers - they insert themselves into the writing too much. While obviously it is okay to speak to personal experience at time it gets to be too much. That is the case with this book. In addition this book is way too touchy-feely for my tastes. I know from experience writing reviews that these criticisms of mine are the very things some people find appealing. But for me they rubbed me the wrong way.

The ideas presented in this book are good. The presentation is lacking. Recommended for readers who appreciate the author's style.
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on June 20, 2009
Ever since reading about Tal Ben-Shahar in a Boston Globe article ([...] ) I've been interested to learn more about what he was teaching in his "sold out" Harvard course.

I haven't been disappointed. The main tenet of the book is that perfectionism often limits your success and even when it doesn't, you don't appreciate what you've achieved. He recommends becoming a optimalist (a new word he coined I believe) instead. An optimalist accepts failure as part of life, enjoys the journey instead of only the destination and is still able to achieve goals.

As one who has strong tendencies toward perfectionism, it's an especially useful read. He covers other useful areas like striking a balance between work, family and recreation, using personal examples. He uses his own life as an illustration on how to apply the principles he teaches. I find this quite helpful as it lets you in on his own experiences with perfectionism as well as giving you concrete examples to emulate in your own life.

I can't say whether this book had long-lasting affects yet but I plan to apply his suggestions in order to become an optimalist in time.

I agree with other reviewers that the reader detracted from the content. I would have preferred to hear the author read his book.
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