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.