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Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life Paperback – January 3, 2006
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About the Author
- Publisher : Vintage; Reprint edition (January 3, 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 319 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1400078393
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400078394
- Lexile measure : 1050L
- Item Weight : 8.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.15 x 0.71 x 7.95 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Learned Optimism sets out on a quest to change a fundamental aspect of human personality. While we have all been asked the question, "Is the glass half empty or half full?", who knew a book could help change your answer? Is that an overstatement? Absolutely not.
Seligman explains that people have different ways of explaining events. When an event happens, it can be seen as neutral. The milk spilled; WE are the ones who say that is a 'good' or 'bad' thing. While many self help books try to address the issue of positivity, they advocate blindly holding an optimistic attitude. I have read many pop psychology and self help books, ranging from "The Power of Positive Thinking" to "How to Win Friends and Influence People", to "Think and Grow Rich" (I'm still trying this one - no luck so far). Some of these self-help books advocate an almost faith-based approach to changing one's behavior. Simply will something, and if you desire it enough, you can manifest it! Allow your inner thoughts and desires to carve out your external world! Think positive and you can do anything!
I believe Zig Ziglar said that no matter how positive somebody was, if they aren't a certified cardiovascular surgeon, he wouldn't trust them to give him open heart surgery! I agree, and I think positive thinking without realism, prudence, and planning is pointless. In Learned Optimism, this problem is addressed. Seligman points out that being positive isn't something you turn on and keep on 24/7. When a bad thing happens, an optimistic person doesn't paint over it, declaring "It will be totally fine, I'm happy!". The difference is that an innate optimist would say that negative events are external and temporary.
This distinction is an incredible revelation, and we all do this to an extent! When treated rudely, perhaps by a clerk, a pessimist might declare that "People are rude, this is the way things are.", and that the clerk "Was a jerk". They might be upset or offended, taking the clerk's actions as an attack toward them. An optimist, according to Seligman, THINKS differently. They might say "THIS (particular) Clerk is acting rude." He or she "must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed."
This difference in explanatory style was the key concept I took away from this book. While events simply occur, one's interpretation can be positive or negative. So if it's a choice, then how do we change from being pessimistic to being optimistic?
You'll have to read the book to find out. Either way, just know that while positive psychology is a new field, I gained more from this scientifically accredited book than I did reading 5 self-help books. Apply the concepts and principles within, and you might just surprise yourself! :)
However, the main point and repeated premises are very clear and useful, so I recommend reading it with the following caveat: be willing to skim/skip the parts that aren’t relevant to you. If you‘re intrigued by research & methods, skip the self-help stuff. If you‘re reading to fix a problem in your life, skip the research chapters. Or, consider reading his subsequent books, which I believe focus more on a single aspect of the science &/or advice.
Maybe I'm not lazy, selfish, or depressed--I just have a system of negative thoughts that are making me feel disempowered and helpless. It's becoming clear that my thinking is VERY cyclically pessimistic; I even feel a clenching in my chest every time I return to one of my negative beliefs. But even today, the first day I've consulted with this book, I've used some of its technique to challenge my negative thinking, with positive results. I'd been putting off returning a friend's text because I thought he might be upset with me, but just examining that belief made me realize how knee-jerk and baseless it is. Having reoriented myself, I texted him back.
It's one small step but that felt VERY powerful. I already did feel compelled to reattribute much of my depression as pessimism, and if I do that there will be ways to positively change every thought I have. All we are is the set of assumptions we make about the world, and I'm amazed at how little I've been examining my own assumptions.
I am so happy I bought this book. Take a look at the preview and see if it resonates with you; it did with me because it's so research-based, not airy or cheerful at all. Just useful and powerful. If you struggle with any sort of depression or ineffectiveness, I recommend you give those first few pages a read. It really might give us all a way to get better.
Top reviews from other countries
The Dr has spent his entire working life work in psychology, seemingly in the area of optimism. He has padded out most of the book with memoirs, almost, of how he reached his conclusions - the co-workers, the tests, the experiments (including using electric shocks on various lab animals, or not, in order to train them to be helpless, or not) - it covers 3 decades of his career.
Large portions of it read like a history of science book, and it's often quite dry. The book could have been a quarter of the length really.
But when he does offer something practical for someone looking to improve some aspect of themselves it gets good, in my opinion. The first really useful part (ch3?) is a fairly long questionnaire to determine your levels of optimism - a proper one with dozens of questions that you can't manipulate the outcome of. I turned out to be moderately pessimistic, which I could have guessed, but I feel it was properly determined.
About five chapters discussing how he conducted his research follow, yawn. But it does all prove the book is based on real science - experiments, measurements, observation, and therefore credible evidence. Not BS with an expectation that you will just believe what he says.
He suggests people who are pessimistic tend to assume that they have little control over all events in their lives, and look for evidence to support their view - i.e. they worry. Optimistic people tend to assume a degree of control, and don't place blame somewhere and leave it at that. i.e pessimistic people have learned, through experience, to be the way they are. Further more he suggests optimism can be learned through interpreting day to day events differently.
Then begins with what I actually bought the book to find out. And what he describes seems to be reframing, as found in NLP. Properly tested by science however. He gives a five step method of using it to rework day to day issues and interactions, though it is equally applicable to old problems, bad memories and maybe whole life strategies.
He suggests you practice using use this method with pen and paper five times over two days to get it fixed in your mind - after which it starts to become second nature. I find myself applying it in my head to get the best out of many situations daily.
Time will tell whether this book changes my life, but two months after reading it I'm still working with it. I see that there is always more than one aspect to any event or human interaction than the obvious negative one, which gives me more leeway.
Seligman advises that depression rates climb due to psychological and cultural factors: the overemphasised individual, the reduction of the commons. It doesn't take a Marxist to see this.
More could be said on the evolutionary psychology of the topic - the discussion here is a bit sparse. This is a book which wants to create doers out of ruminators. Concepts are neatly wrapped in useful examples, not lengthy argumentation.
Some of you may be considering this book in lieu of treatment for serious mental illness. It is not for that, as excellent as it is. This is a book of essential recipes: treatment and therapy provide the ingredients.
Also I read "The Squeaky Wheel" by Dr Guy Winch, and it mentions learned helplessness and learned optimism.
I had no idea that this niche work existed, but I'm very glad to have it on audio.
short, but good - some solid basic techniques to use. It even offers a partner work technique.