Optimistic Child Martin Seligman

Optimistic Child Martin Seligman

Optimistic Child Martin Seligman: This book is fascinating, even if you do not have or work with children. This is a book which adults can read and sit back in shock at how easily your world view back can be traced back to the one so dearly held as children. For the parent, the information Seligman has provided in this book is invaluable. For an adult who was once a child, it’s a way to look closely at how you act in, and react to, the world now.

The epidemic of depression in America strikes 30% of all children. Now Martin E. P. Seligman, the best-selling author of Learned Optimism, and his colleagues offer parents and educators a program clinically proven to cut that risk in half. With this startling new research, parents can teach children to apply optimism skills that can curb depression, boost school performance, and improve physical health.

These skills provide children with the resilience they need to approach the teenage years and adulthood with confidence. Over the last thirty years the self-esteem movement has infiltrated American homes and classrooms with the credo that supplying positive feedback, regardless of the quality of performance, will make children feel better about themselves. But in this era of raising our children to feel good, the hard truth is that they have never been more depressed.

By teaching children skills of optimism, it is possible to “immunize” or safeguard them against episodes of depression. This concept is at the core of The Optimistic Child Martin Seligman

The Big Ideas!

  • Pessimistic children are at a much higher risk of becoming depressed than optimistic children.
  • In numerous long-term studies, Seligman and colleagues discovered a linkbetween pessimism or dwelling on the most catastrophic causes of any adversity and depression.
  • Optimism is not only a tendency with which some are born, it is also a learned skill. Even those who are naturally pessimistic in nature can master the skill of optimism.
  • Studies indicate people are far more depressed now than just 100 years ago.
  • Seligman and colleagues show adults how to teach children the skills of optimism with specific skills and exercises.
  • Optimism can help children thwart depression, achieve more in school, and improve physical health.
  • In adults, pessimism can be a significant barrier, not only to mental wellness, but also to overall life satisfaction.
  • When people face adversity, the narrative they use to explain the adversity is known as an “explanatory style.” Explanatory styles can be categorized as optimistic or pessimistic based on three different dimensions (more info below).

Optimistic Child Martin Seligman

Optimistic Child Martin Seligman: Improving Optimism

How can a parent or teacher provide youth with the skills to stave off depression? If you are thinking it has something to do with self-esteem, Seligman would disagree. In fact, he blasts the self-esteem movement and its encouragement to make children simply ”feel good” about themselves. False praise may lead to pessimism as children perceive the insincerity of parents and teachers. Seligman posits, “In order for your child to experience mastery, it is necessary for him to fail, to feel bad, and try again repeatedly until success occurs. None of these steps can be circumvented. Failure and feeling bad are necessary building blocks for ultimate success and feeling good.”

One of the primary ways to help your child become more optimistic is to help change their explanatory style. What’s an explanatory style? When someone faces an adversity, the way they explain that event to themselves and others is known as an explanatory style. These narratives are evaluated around three dimensions.

Optimistic Child Martin Seligman: Narratives

  • Permanent vs. Temporary: Events either change across time or remain stable.
  • Pervasive vs. Specific: Events are universal or specific to a particular domain.
  • Personal vs. Impersonal: Causes of an event are within oneself or outside of oneself.

Optimistic Child Martin Seligman: Explanatory Style

Someone with an optimistic explanatory style would characterize an adversity as temporary, specific, and impersonal. The pessimist, on the other hand, sees adversity as permanent, pervasive, and personal. As an example, a child who fails a test in school may internally believe “I’m a loser.” Clearly, this is largely pessimistic point of view as it is enduring and can be applied to nearly any domain of life. Conversely, the optimistic child who has failed a test will tend to think in ways that can be shaped, maintaining control over one’s destiny, as it were. The optimistic child will say “I failed this test because I didn’t study enough.” This explanation is specific and leaves doors open for improvement and change.

In addition explanatory styles, the book delves into other skills such as learning about link between thoughts, feelings, and actions; catching and evaluating thoughts; creating alternative thoughts; and keeping things in perspective to name a few. Studies developed by Seligman and his team in Philadelphia-area schools, skills such as these can reduce the risk of depression, improve academic performance, and boost physical health in children.

Optimistic Child Martin Seligman Quotes

Raising children, I realized, is more than fixing what is wrong with them.  It is about identifying and amplifying their strengths and virtues, and helping them find the niche where they can live these positive traits to the fullest.”

“Optimism will not make the problems disappear.  On the contrary, it allows your child to get to the root of the problem so that she can focus on correcting the situation.”

This book is superbly practical! It goes well beyond theory into actionable exercises for both adults and children.  Not only can these exercises help increase optimism, they help one maintain hope during the most trying life experiences. Keep this in mind-if you’re more of a half empty person when you start reading this book, at the very least, your glass will look very different when you’re done.

Optimistic Child Martin Seligman Actionable Exercises

1. Identify your own explanatory style. One of the primary ways to help your child and yourself to become more optimistic is to increase your awareness of your own explanatory style. Next time you face an adversity, log your internal and external explanation of the events. Evaluate these thoughts against the three facets of explanatory styles to see if you tend to lean toward an optimistic or pessimistic mindset.

2. Teach your youthling about explanatory styles. Open conversations with your child about how they perceive themselves, how they perceive difficult and challenging situations and how they resolve problems give you a comprehensive picture of their worldview.

3. Teach your youthlings about the link between thoughts-actions. The automatic ideas which pop into your mind are what most consistently cause your reactions or to feel and behave in certain ways.

4. Remember that optimism is a skill. This awareness can change the way you view the world. Optimism is the embodiment of engagement with the world whereas pessimism is a loss of opportunity.

Optimistic Child Martin Seligman Book Reviews by Amazon Customers


April 1, 2018

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June 4, 2017

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5.0 out of 5 stars So much of the book makes perfect sense to me as a father who's going through ...

January 1, 2018

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Flourish Martin Seligman Reviews

Flourish Martin Seligman Reviews

Flourish Martin Seligman Reviews

Flourish Martin Seligman Reviews: From the bestselling author of Learned Optimism and Authentic Happiness comes “a relentlessly optimistic guidebook on finding and securing individual happiness” (Kirkus Reviews).

Flourish Martin Seligman Reviews

With this unprecedented promise, internationally esteemed psychologist Martin Seligman begins Flourish, his first book in ten years. The first to present his dynamic new concept of what well-being really is.

Flourish Martin Seligman Reviews

Traditionally, the goal of psychology has been to relieve human suffering. However, the goal of the Positive Psychology movement, which Dr. Seligman has led for fifteen years, is different—it’s about actually raising the bar for the human condition.

Flourish Martin Seligman Reviews: Optimism

Flourish builds on Dr. Seligman’s game-changing work on optimism, motivation, and character to show how to get the most out of life, unveiling an electrifying new theory of what makes a good life—for individuals, for communities, and for nations. In a fascinating evolution of thought and practice, Flourish refines what Positive Psychology is all about.


Flourish Martin Seligman Reviews

Flourish Martin Seligman Reviews: Well-being

While certainly a part of well-being, happiness alone doesn’t give life meaning. Seligman now asks, What is it that enables you to cultivate your talents, to build deep, lasting relationships with others, to feel pleasure, and to contribute meaningfully to the world? In a word, what is it that allows you to flourish? “Well-being” takes the stage front and center, and Happiness (or Positive Emotion) becomes one of the five pillars of Positive Psychology, along with Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment—or PERMA, the permanent building blocks for a life of profound fulfillment.

Thought-provoking in its implications for education, economics, therapy, medicine, and public policy—the very fabric of society—Flourish tells inspiring stories of Positive Psychology in action, including how the entire U.S. Army is now trained in emotional resilience; how innovative schools can educate for fulfillment in life and not just for workplace success; and how corporations can improve performance at the same time as they raise employee well-being.

Flourish Martin Seligman Reviews: Interactive Excercises

With interactive exercises to help readers explore their own attitudes and aims, Flourish is a watershed in the understanding of happiness as well as a tool for getting the most out of life. On the cutting edge of a science that has changed millions of lives, Dr. Seligman now creates the ultimate extension and capstone of his bestselling classics, Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism.

Flourish Martin Seligman Reviews by Amazon Customers


November 13, 2018

I had never heard of positive psychology before this. I would not consider this book the textbook of Positive Psychology but rather the personal perspective or experience of its creator. It’s quite intriguing to me and I am considering seeking a certificate in Positive Psychology from a university. It seems so needful in the world today. I like the transition it is working to make where today’s psychology has gotten stuck in “what happened in your past” whereas this looks to push “what are you going to do with your future”. It also emphasizes obtaining well-being through wise living
Sharon F. Danzger

January 8, 2017

This book is packed with so much valuable information. I found it particularly helpful to know that the way we are born and raised does not have to be the way we are for our entire lives. It is within our control to be more positive and small daily habits can help reinforce what you are hoping to accomplish. The research studies that are included make the book even more interesting although you may need to read a little more slowly to absorb all the content.
2 people found this helpful

February 5, 2013

Seligman, as he describes himself in the book, stands at the intersection of applied and basic research. As he notes, it can be a lonely place, but it results in a brilliant and useful book.

This is a book that takes the conventional wisdom, of what psychology is about, and turns it into a new and useful direction. Instead of (largely ineffective) psychotherapy to manage depression or other negative psychological states, this book is about the positive psychology of how to flourish. In what I think is a nice bit of intellectual honesty, he reflects on his theory in his earlier book, Authentic Happiness, and in this book notes his errors and improves and expands his theory.

There is an important warning here about academia. Seligman warns that too much of academic psychology is useless puzzle solving. Seligman wants academic psychology to pay more attention to solving real world psychological problems. This is an issue for psychology students at research intensive universities. Seligman states: “I mentally scanned (serially) the tenured faculty in the ten leading psychology departments in the world. Not a single one focused on work or on love or on play. They all worked on ‘basic’ processes: cognition, emotion, decision theory, perception. Where were the scholars who would help guide us about what makes life worth living?” (page 59).

Seligman is equally critical of closed-minded clinical psychologists, such as those who opposed his initiatives for “evidence-based psychotherapy”.

In sum, this book represents the best of academic work as a public intellectual to help make life better through deep and insightful evidence-based analysis, clearly and interestingly written.

As an aside, the book implicitly raises the public policy issue of how do the people who pay for their lifestyle, the taxpayers and tuition payers, motivate academics to more useful problem solving and less useless puzzle solving. And how do we prevent universities from doing to another generation what Seligman describes happened to him, that he was “miseducated”. He states “Originally, I went into psychology to relieve human suffering and to increase human well-being. I thought I was well prepared to do this; but I was actually miseducated to this task. It took me decades to recover and to work my way out of solving puzzles and into solving problems.” (page 55).

6 people found this helpful

Martin Seligman Authentic Happiness

Martin Seligman Authentic Happiness

Martin Seligman Authentic Happiness

Martin Seligman Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. A national bestseller, Authentic Happiness launched the revolutionary new science of Positive Psychology—and sparked a coast-to-coast debate on the nature of real happiness.

According to esteemed psychologist and bestselling author Martin Seligman, happiness is not the result of good genes or luck. Real, lasting happiness comes from focusing on one’s personal strengths rather than weaknesses—and working with them to improve all aspects of one’s life.

Using practical exercises, brief tests, and a dynamic website program, Seligman shows readers how to identify their highest virtues and use them in ways they haven’t yet considered. Accessible and proven, Authentic Happiness is the most powerful work of popular psychology in years.

Authentic Happiness has become a classic positive psychology book in its own right. Written by the founder of positive psychology himself, Martin Seligman has been writing about positive psychology long before this book came to fruition.

Seligman also wrote “Learned Optimism“, which became a national bestselling book, though Authentic Happiness is his most recognized book due to how happiness was scientifically discussed.


The book is divided into 3 parts: Positive Emotion, Strength and Virtue, and In The Mansion of life. Written from the writer’s perspective, it is an easy and interesting read. Seligman also writes with the hope that the reader will identify their own strengths and virtues alonhg the way.

In the preface, Authentic Happiness is stated to counter the belief that “happiness is inauthentic” and the book aims to overthrow the idea that happiness is something fixed and can never increase. Seligman proposes the 3 pillars of positive psychology as positive emotion, positive traits, and positive institutions (in 2011, it was turned into a PERMA model to better cover all aspects of well-being).

The Positive Psychology toolkit is a science-based, online platform containing 135+ exercises, activities, interventions, questionnaires, assessments and scales.

Positive Emotion

During the first part of Positive Emotion, Seligman aims to provide readers with a better understanding of what positive emotion really is. He begins with a study of essays written by 180 nuns who had the same lifestyles, economic class, and social class. The study found that the nuns who expressed words relating to good and positive feelings lived longer.

Another study investigating smile authenticity in college yearbooks revealed that women with a genuine smile (Duchene smile) tended to have higher marital satisfaction and well-being than those who had a non-Duchene smile (Pan American smile).

He also makes the distinction between positive psychology and ‘happyology’, stating that positive psychology is not about hedonism but instead it is about finding “meaning in those happy and unhappy moments.” In addition, rather than finding shortcuts for happiness and well-being through comfort, joy, rapture, and ecstasy, the aim behind authentic happiness is to find your strength and virtue, which is further discussed in part two.

Positive feelings are states, which last for a finite amount of time, while positive character or traits “recur across time and different situations.”

Positive traits such as gratitude, optimism, altruism, humor, the 24 traits, plus the 6 core virtues (wisdom, courage, love, humanity, justice, temperance, spirituality, and transcendence) can lead to an increase in well-being.

Based on evolution, negative emotion is there to protect us from threats. It is there to assist us. A flight or fight response.

Positive emotions play the opposite role, helping us to “broaden our abiding intellectual, physical, and social resources, building up reserves we can draw upon when a threat or opportunity presents itself’.”

People with high positive affect do not feel good all the time but they feel good more often than those who don’t. Based on Barbara Fredrickson’s theory, positive emotion can also undo the negative emotions

Seligman gives us the life satisfaction scale and the gratitude survey to complete. He argues that the reason people believe that the past determines the future is influenced by Freud, Darwin, and Marx.

Even though there are some supportive data showing that bad childhood events can lead to a destructive adulthood, the results are not consistent enough to adequately conclude that. He suggests that the best way is to forgive and it will help you forget your past.

Martin Seligman Authentic Happiness

Moving forward, optimism plays a large role during this period. As the writer of Learned Optimism, he clearly distinguishes between pessimism and optimism. Sometimes we are illogical and quickly jump to conclusions, which creates false beliefs. Therefore, Seligman suggests 4 ways to argue with yourself.

Based on the scientific study of positive emotion, there are three ways to increase the amount of happiness, which are mindfulness, savoring, and habituation. Somehow, pleasure has to be distinguished from gratification, as Seligman stated, it separates the pleasant life from the good life.

Strength and Virtue
“Authentic happiness comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths and using them every day in work, love, play, and parenting.”

Throughout the history of psychology, little research has been conducted on character except through personality studies. “Any science that does not use character as a basic idea”, Seligman argues, “will never be accepted as a useful account of human action.”

He counter-argues 3 reasons on why character is underestimated in science and shows how to cultivate the 6 virtues, the 24 strengths, and how to find your top five to focus and work on.

In The Mansion of Life
Seligman uses the third part of the book to answer “What is the good life?”, which he believes is the act of using your strength every day. In terms of work and life satisfaction, it has little has to do with money. Freedom of choice and finding flow is much more important.

Lawyers were used as an example, highlighting a highly stressful job and unhappy work environment. The 3 principles that foster the outcome are pessimism, lower choices in high-stress circumstances, and a win-lose game in their field of work. Nevertheless, Seligman also presents a way out of this.

Towards the end, Seligman looks at love based on research conducted across 17 nations and found that married people are happier. He proposes that the 3 levels of love explain why this is so. Marriage combines ‘the love of people who give us comfort, love from people who depend on us, and romantic love.’

A Parent’s marriage also influences the way children look at relationships and their partners. Using our signature strengths every day can enhance marriage quality.

Seligman suggests 8 techniques for building positive emotions. Each emotion leads to exploration and cultivates mastery, which reveals the strength and virtue in you. On the good life, Seligman states that it,

“Consists in deriving happiness by using your strengths every day in the main realms of living. The meaningful life adds one more component: using these same strengths to forward knowledge, power, or goodness.”

This book is a classic. It is well written and it will change how you think about happiness and strength in many ways. Various questionnaires are provided and it is easy to follow for all positive psychology knowledge levels.

The content is easy to follow, includes questionnaires and has plenty of research to back up its claims. Some are conducted cross-nationally but others are conducted in a limited group. I think it would be valuable if we could see how positive emotion is understood across different cultures from around the world.

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit: One of the most influential living psychologists looks at the history of his life and discipline, and paints a much brighter future for everyone.Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit

When Martin E. P. Seligman first encountered psychology in the 1960s, the field was devoted to eliminating misery: it was the science of how past trauma creates present symptoms. Today, thanks in large part to Seligman's Positive Psychology movement, it is ever more focused not on what cripples life, but on what makes life worth living--with profound consequences for our mental health.

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit

In this wise and eloquent memoir, spanning the most transformative years in the history of modern psychology, Seligman recounts how he learned to study optimism--including a life-changing conversation with his five-year-old daughter. He tells the human stories behind some of his major findings, like CAVE, an analytical tool that predicts election outcomes (with shocking accuracy) based on the language used in campaign speeches, the international spread of Positive Education, the launch of the US Army's huge resilience program, and the canonical studies that birthed the theory of learned helplessness--which he now reveals was incorrect. And he writes at length for the first time about his own battles with depression at a young age.

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit: Deeply Personal

In The Hope Circuit, Seligman makes a compelling and deeply personal case for the importance of virtues like hope, gratitude, and wisdom for our mental health. You will walk away from this book not just educated but deeply enriched.

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit Amazon Customer Reviews


Dan Coughlin

April 14, 2018

Since 2002 I have read five of Martin Seligman's books: Authentic Happiness, Flourish, Learned Optimism, What You Can Change, and What You Can't, and now The Hope Circuit.

The first four books were tremendous. I loved them. They impacted my thinking enormously. I found so many practical ways to effectively guide my thoughts and emotions to improve performance in so many different situations. They've almost become so engrained in me that I often forget where I first learned the ideas.

However, The Hope Circuit is at a much higher level. This is a tour de force. It explains in a tremendously personal way the development of psychology, and several mentions of psychiatry and philosophy as well and even astronomy with the stories about Carl Sagan, over the past 50-70 years.

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit shows how behaviorism gave way to the importance of cognition and cognitive therapy and the work of Tim Beck and evolved into Positive Psychology and eventually to the Hope Circuit over a period of 50 - 70 years. All of this psychological history is explained through personal stories about the interactions between Seligman and his mentors, peers, and students. This book reminds me of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. Not only did Seligman interact with many of the key psychological people in history, he also made history himself with his work on learned helplessness and then learned optimism, and ultimately with the development of Positive Psychology.

However, there is one other completely unique aspect of this book that I loved. Marty Seligman opens up in very intimate ways about his personal life. For example, he talks about his own intensity and impatience in his late 20s and early 30s and how it affected his relationships with family and friends. I found his story to be remarkably down to earth and relatable.

This is most definitely NOT a book on the theories of psychology. It is a very real and heartfelt story of how tremendously important principles of psychology emerged over the decades from real people working hard to uncover the underlying truths. He doesn't sugarcoat any of his stories. He explains exactly how he saw things unfold from his perspective. For example, his story about how the teachings of psychiatry were greatly influenced by which ideas members of the U.S. Congress were willing to financially support.

This book is like the autobiography of a great athlete, except this is a story about a person who spent his life working to understand how the mind works. I can't imagine you not getting value out of reading this book. I savored it and underlined almost every word on every page. It also reminds me of The Hero's Journey that Joseph Campbell wrote about. Seligman spent decades searching for powerful insights through a wide range of obstacles and many moments of challenging the status quo, and then he brings what he discovered back to large masses of people to help them not only reduce suffering but to find ways to sustain optimism and joy in their lives.

39 people found this helpful
Becky Brotemarkle, PhD, RN, PCC, NBC-HWC, CMC

April 23, 2018

I pre-ordered this book and eagerly awaited its arrival - I have read Marty Seligman's other books and followed his work for almost 40 years - so of course, I wanted to read the latest. But, I had no idea that in its own way, it would also be the greatest of his books. It is an honest and down-to-earth story of a man's life (so far - because I am sure there is more to come) with all of the struggles and all of the joys that he experienced over the years. Not only is it his story, but also the story of Positive Psychology and it is full of the important concepts and principles he has brought to light during his life.

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit, this book was especially meaningful for me because I first found Marty's work after I had left an abusive relationship and started asking myself "Why did I stay so long?" I found the Theory of Learned Helplessness which showed me that it wasn't my fault but rather the circumstances that kept me trapped.

I eventually became stronger and as I read Marty's other books could see how I had also grown past helplessness into optimism, happiness , and flourishing as I became a nurse, a teacher and obtained my PhD at 57 which had been a lifelong goal. And I looked back and realized that what helped me escape the helplessness, was lying in bed at night and reciting all the things I could do well until I believed in myself and I believed there might be a way out. I now see myself as a living example of Marty's work and really am grateful for what he has put together so beautifully in this book.

And one last coincidence that I believe is not a coincidence: a couple of years ago I began a coach training program, MentorCoach LLC, that has very strong connections to Marty since he and the training program's founder, Ben Dean, started an Authentic Happiness program together.

I highly recommend the book as a good read with a great story line about a man that is real (I couldn't put it down), a source of important information about Positive Psychology (the history and highlights), and a future of possibilities and hope.

17 people found this helpful
Daniel S. Bowling, III

November 2, 2018

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit: The reviews of Dr. Martin Seligman's newest book, The Hope Circuit, have largely gotten it wrong. They regard it a memoir and review it as such. Yes, on one level it is it is a memoir, one of a fascinating life lived amidst tectonic shifts in the field of psychology and psychiatry. The problems with memoirs are they are valedictory by definition. This is a forward-looking work. Far greater than just an individual's recollections of a life well lived, it makes the compelling argument that the human race is hot-wired for hope.

Seligman doesn't merely make such a claim and move on. He patiently explains in language laymen can understand (although he instructs the reader at some technical junctures to re-read preceding paragraphs to aid in comprehension) that humans are driven by framing possibilities about the future, not haunted by memories or past events. Those who can successfully frame the future in positive and hopeful terms enjoy the greatest happiness and outcomes in life. This is an incredibly powerful message: hope is not just Pollyannaish wishful thinking, but a function that is critical for well being (I strongly recommend Homo Prospectus: Oxford Press for those interested in a deeper dive into the science and theories behind this claim).

Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit, this is a fine book, deep, thoughtful and eminently readable. Seligman is a wonderful essayist, one who can make a psychology text read like a thriller. However, some reviews of the book are negative, reflective of the fact Seligman has long attracted a number of enemies throughout his career, private and public. Some of Seligman's critics are fair to the extent they challenge the science (this is how science moves forward, Seligman notes) and not the person. Most are not.

The criticisms come from different sources. Some are from entrenched academic mandarins, jealous of the funding dollars shifting away from the disease model of psychology that Seligman describes in passages of the book; others are left-wing polemicists like Barbara Ehrenreich who somehow view positive psychology, the field Seligman "founded," as a stalking horse for religious or social conservatism.

Some are annoyed by his first person narrative style, where he places himself at the center of a revolution in psychology (ignoring the inconvenient fact that he actually was. I find the personal anecdotes among the best parts of The Hope Circuit). Others criticisms, including those accusing Seligman of aiding and abetting torture by the U.S. military after 9/11, border on libelous. Seligman addresses the criticisms, fairly and without acrimony in a chapter of the book (and a bit mildly in my opinion; I will save my deconstruction of their errors and biases in an article to come).

Strongly recommend The Hope Circuit for anyone interested in the history of psychology or the life of one of its giants. I also recommend it to anyone interested in living life better and with more hope. Martin Seligman The Hope Circuit.

2 people found this helpful

Martin Seligman Learned Optimism

Martin Seligman Learned Optimism

Martin Seligman Learned Optimism: The father of the new science of positive psychology and author of Authentic Happiness draws on more than twenty years of clinical research to demonstrate how optimism enchances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it.

Martin Seligman Learned Optimism

Offering many simple techniques, Dr. Seligman explains how to break an “I—give-up” habit, develop a more constructive explanatory style for interpreting your behavior, and experience the benefits of a more positive interior dialogue. These skills can help break up depression, boost your immune system, better develop your potential, and make you happier.

Martin Seligman Learned Optimism

With generous additional advice on how to encourage optimistic behavior at school, at work and in children, Learned Optimism is both profound and practical–and valuable for every phase of life.

"Vaulted me out of my funk.... So, fellow moderate pessimists, go buy this book." —Marian Sandmaier, The New York Times Book Review

Martin Seligman Learned Optimism Summary

Learned Optimism digs into why optimists are healthier, happier, and more successful people than pessimists, how both are learned attitudes and what you can do to become an optimist yourself.

Do you ever notice some people in life who just seem to have everything go their way? Who run their lives as if in cruise control mode, where everything works on autopilot and is super easy?

I know I do.

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, has spent decades of research trying to find out why some people manage their lives so easily. His answer: They’re optimists.

He calls optimism and pessimism explanatory styles, they are the way in which we explain bad events in our lives. There are 3 characteristic points of view when looking at problems, in which optimists and pessimists differ.

1. Optimists see problems as temporary, pessimists as permanent.

2. Optimists see problems as specific to a situation, pessimists make them a general case.

3. Optimists see problems as externally caused, pessimists blame themselves.

Martin Seligman Learned Optimism


Martin Seligman Learned Optimism: Both styles are acquired and can be learned.

One of the advantages of being an optimist is being healthier. Studies found optimism boosts your immune system, and even increased the health of cancer patients. What’s more, optimists are likely to take good care of their bodies, because they believe that their choices will make a difference. Pessimists are prone to junk food and no exercise, as they believe it won’t matter.

Martin Seligman Learned Optimism: Pessism

On the other hand, pessimism can likely be a cause of depression. Believing that nothing you do will change anything can of course make you depressed. A study where people had to press buttons to make noises stop found symptoms of depression in them whenever the experiment was rigged so that the buttons had no effect.

Optimism is also a deciding factor in professional sports. Seligman looked at baseball teams in 1985 and determined the New York Mets were the most optimistic team, the St. Luis Cardinals the most pessimistic. Guess who won the World Series one year later? The Mets.

Talent at work is just as overrated as talent in professional sports. The University of Pennsylvania usually assesses their freshmen according to their SATs, high school grades and achievement test. When they let Seligman segment the new students into optimists and pessimists, it turned out that the optimists exceeded expectations, where pessimists fell behind.

That same optimism will also carry you through a successful career, as Seligman’s study with Metropolitan shows. He hired people for them who underperformed skill-wise, but showed great optimism. The new employees outperformed even those with better skills.

So what can you do to become an optimist as quickly as possible?

Use the ABC technique by Albert Ellis. It works like this: When facing a crisis, you note 3 things about it.

  • What’s the Adversity? For example you just got fired.
  • What is my Belief about this? e.g.  you may believe you did a horrible job and that’s why you were let go.
  • What is the Consequence of my belief? e.g. you may feel depressed and can’t get out of bed for 2 weeks.

How people decide to deal with a negative event determines almost entirely how much it will affect them. That’s why it’s important to start recording ABCs and seeing where you can change your beliefs.

Once you’ve recorded a few negative believes, start challenging them. Ask yourself if they’re really true, whether there’s another explanation and if they’re true, what that implies.

Then you can start labeling your thoughts into two categories: useful and not useful. Whenever you notice a thought is not useful to you, then you should probably not pursue it any further. Start thinking of negative events as temporary, specific and external, record your ABCs and know that your attitude is learned – you can change it at any time.

This way, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a true optimist.