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Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life Paperback – January 3, 2006
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“Vaulted me out of my funk. . . . So, fellow moderate pessimists, go buy this book." — The New York Times Book Review”One of the most important books of the century--an absolute must-read for all persons interested in genuinely understanding and helping our fellow human beings.” —Dr. Robert H. Schuller, author of Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do "Dr. Seligman makes an optimistic case for optimism: you can learn it, you can measure it, you can teach it, and you will be healthier and happier for it.” —Dr. Aaron T. Beck, author of Love is Never Enough“A system for reforming the most entrenched pessimist.” —Philadelphia Daily News
About the Author
Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a past president of the American Psychological Association, is a leading motivational expert and an authority on learned helplessness. His many books include Authentic Happinessand The Optimistic Child. Dr. Seligman's research has been supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Aging, the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
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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! :)
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.