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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic
Unlike many of the positive thinking books that attempt to woo the reader into believing that optimism is the answer to life's ills, this well-researched book explains optimism and pessimism, how they originate and their pros and cons. It is an excellent book and should be read by all who want to understand these issues. I recommend two books in addition to this...
Published on May 4 2004

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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars More of a "why..." than a "how to..." book.
This was a fairly interesting read. Seligman spends 80% of the book discussing what he has discovered about learned optimism over the years, and what other researchers have found on the subject. All of this information helps build an strong case for the idea that we humans can, and should, learn to be more optimistic.
That being said, I gave this book such a low...
Published on April 15 2004 by Renaaah


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic, May 4 2004
By A Customer
Unlike many of the positive thinking books that attempt to woo the reader into believing that optimism is the answer to life's ills, this well-researched book explains optimism and pessimism, how they originate and their pros and cons. It is an excellent book and should be read by all who want to understand these issues. I recommend two books in addition to this marvellous book. The first is Optimal Thinking: How To Be Your Best Self, a practical how-to book to show you how to resolve your emotions and make the most of every situation. The second book is Serious Creativity which shows you how to generate options, particularly when you are stuck.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He's optimistic about optimism!, May 28 2003
By 
Dr. Cathy Goodwin (Philadelphia, PA USA) - See all my reviews
Learned optimism
When Martin Seligman deliver his APA presidential address, I was in the back of the room. His ideas were radical -- too radical for some therapists, who began walking out. These days Seligman's ideas reach beyond the research community and we can all gain.
Here's the basic thesis. When rats receive shock after shock, and nothing they do prevents future shocks, they learn to be helpless. They just give up. Dogs exhibit the same behavior and so do people. However, not all people -- and, for that matter, not all rats -- succumb. With people, Seligman has learned, thinking style is the moderator, i.e,. the differentiator between those who give up and those who keep going.
At first I seem an unlikely person to read this book, let alone recommend it. I'm known as irreverent, cynical and "cantankerous," as one reader said. However, Seligman defines an optimistic style by the way we respond to adverse events. Optimists see them as specific rather than pervasive, transient rather than permanent, and caused by factors outside oneself. In that sense, I might qualify!
I recommend this book because it is important to understand that thinking style can outweigh other predictors of success. His stories with insurance sales representatives and athletes are persuasive. One insurance company found that an optimistic style can compensate for lower aptitude, as measured by their traditional test.
Seligman also acknowledges that an optimistic style will not always be appropriate. When facing high risk, it's better to err on the side of pessimism. Indeed, he says, some occupations tend to attract and reward those who are mildly pessimistic.
On the downside, I found I could not relate to the tests in the book. Example:
Your car runs out of gas on a dark street late at night.
Either "I didn't check to see how much gas was in the tank" or, "The gas gauge w as broken." Well, it seems that the condition of the gas gauge is an objective fact, which I'd find out sooner or later. And if I stop a crime by calling the police, it's possible that a strange noise caught my attention AND I was alert that day. Then again, I get irritated at tests in general (hmm...is that a pessimistic style?)
The next step is to explore the ways our society and institutions foster a sense of helplessness. Seligman encourages us to get a medical exam if we've experienced many losses, yet the medical profession often encourages us to feel helpless. Taking a pill, which requires getting a prescription, gives all control to the doctor. Schools, prisons and other governmental institutions teach people they're wrong - and often labels students or inmates as "C student" or "bad person."
And while Seligman says we can all learn to be optimists ,every psychological relationship has limits. In today's economy, when people get knocked down over and over again, are they learning to be pessimists? And can they learn a new style of thinking?
Finally, couldn't someone be a pessimist in some life domains and an optimist in others?
These questions may be too much to ask of a book destined for a popular audience.
Meanwhile, it's enough to say, this is one of the best popular psych books around, by someone who really knows the score.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars More of a "why..." than a "how to..." book., April 15 2004
By 
Renaaah "Renaaah" (Bronxville, New York) - See all my reviews
This was a fairly interesting read. Seligman spends 80% of the book discussing what he has discovered about learned optimism over the years, and what other researchers have found on the subject. All of this information helps build an strong case for the idea that we humans can, and should, learn to be more optimistic.
That being said, I gave this book such a low rating because I feel that the title is completely misleading. I didn't want to read all sorts of information about WHY changing my mind and life is important and possible. I wanted to learn HOW, and that's what the title promises.
To be sure, there are some suggestions of how to learn optimism, but such little space in the book is dedicated to this topic that I felt misled and "ripped off" by the title.
It's like reading a book called "Instructions for Knitting a Sweater for your Baby" and discovering that only the last chapter is in fact instructive; the first 100 pages are about the history of knitting, the need for babies to wear sweaters, what happens to those poor babies who don't wear sweaters, and why the author considers himself to be the best darn knitter in the entire county. Enough already!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and well, optmistic, March 6 2008
This review is from: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life (Paperback)
This is a fascinating book that leaves the reader feeling, well, optimistic. Optimism means “having a strong expectation that, in general, things will turn out all right in life, despite setbacks and frustrations.” Dr. Seligman goes further and defines optimism in terms of how people explain to themselves their success and failures. Everyone experiences failure at some point in their lives. What differentiates the optimist from the pessimist is a person’s ability to see their failures as due to some factor or circumstance that is changeable rather than as a result of some personal defect that they feel powerless to change.

Learned Optimism is an interesting read for those who want a deeper understanding of how to achieve and help others attain states of happiness, success and better health. The material was enjoyable to read and share with others. I will definitely use these practical and easy to use strategies with myself, my clients and my children. The focus on positive self-talk and recognizing a person’s strengths is much more appealing and instructive than other books which magnify weaknesses and try to “fix” a person. I highly recommend this important book as well as Dr. Seligman’s website [...] which is an excellent resource for free assessments and positive psychology information.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A psychology book. Some interesting ideas., Dec 28 2003
This was more of a psychology book rather than a self-help book. There were more contents on ¡§What is the problem ?¡ instead of ¡§How to tackle the problem ?¡ It contained a lot of description of experiments, making the book looked like the author¡s personal research history. Some contents were repetitive, e.g. the casual relationship between pessimism and depression. The reading was not light, although not hard to understand either.
Having said that, the contents showed the author was an expert in the optimism area with plenty of experience and research. He was objective. For example, the author recognized pessimism has its values, the idea of ¡§flexible optimism¡ is at most a tool only. The book includes a section for parents to guide their children.
There were some interesting concepts or ideas:
¡P Why depression is so serious nowadays ?
¡P Argued the difference between optimism and pessimism does matter.
¡P The three aspects of optimism and pessimism differences.
¡P Positive idea: optimism can be learnt.
¡P ¡§Maximal self¡ theory. How the meaning of life is reduced.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Optimist or Pessimist?, Nov. 30 2003
By A Customer
Most of us know how to be pessimists. Fortunately, I was reered in a home with my parents were usually happy and positive and actually condoned on negatove thoughts. Rarely did a negative thought come across.
On the other hand, I have met other people, friends when I was growing up and families of some other people that I went to school with who were not all that positive so it was easy for me to see why their offspring mimmicked their negativity.
In Learned Optimism, author Martin Selligman asks; "Are you an optimist or a pessimist?" "How do you feel if a friend says something that hurts your feelings?" "How often do you take on exciting new projects or celebrate your successes?"
Selligman, one of the world's experts on motivation, shows you how to chart a new approach to living with "flexible optimism."
In the this groundbreaking book, based on over 20 years of clinical research, Dr. Selligman outlines easy-to-follow techniques that have helped thousands of people rise above pessimism and the depression that accompanies negative thoughts.
LEARNED OPTIMISM shows you how to:
Recognize your "explanatory style" - what you say to yourself when you experience setbacks--and how it influences your life.
Boost your mood and your immune system ---with helpful thoughts
Help your children by practicing the patterns of thought that
encourage optimism at an early age and at home
Stick to your diet or resolve a difficult business deal: Break the "I give up habit" with Dr. Selligman's ABC techniques.
Change your interior dialogue and experience the astonishing positive results.
Learned Optimism offers tests that reveal your present level of optimism and pessimism, and proven techniques to transform negative thoughts and talk yourself out of defeat. When you know how to choose the power of optimism, you'll gain an essential new freedom to build a life of real rewards and lasting fulfillment.
Learned Optimism provides a wealth of information to help anyone conquer depression or even be even more optimistic. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book For Understanding Role of Optimism In Success, May 12 2003
By 
Peter Hupalo (MN United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Non-negative thinking, not positive thinking, is the key to success, according to Martin Seligman author of "Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind And Your Life."
Seligman writes: "The optimistic individual makes the most of his talent... .The optimistic individual perseveres."
As a graduate student, Seligman made a significant discovery--dogs can learn their actions are futile and can learn to become helpless. According to Seligman, people, too, can learn to become helpless. And, such negative thinking can lead to depression.
So, what separates optimistic people from more pessimistic people? Seligman says it's the way we explain events and outcomes to ourselves. If something good happens to us, how do we explain it? Was it luck? Or was it the result of our talent?
If something bad happens to us, how do we explain that? Is it that conditions just weren't right? Or did the bad event happen because we're somehow horribly flawed as individuals? Will this flaw eternally damn us in all other endeavors?
After extensive research, Seligman concludes that optimists and pessimists attribute the reasons for success and failure differently. Pessimists tend to attribute failure and bad events to permanent, personal, and pervasive factors. Optimists tend to attribute bad events to non-personal, non-permanent, and non-pervasive factors. Conversely, for good events.
By "permanent," Seligman means factors that will be with you throughout life. By "personal," Seligman means factors that relate to us as individuals. By "pervasive," Seligman means factors that affect our efficacy in other parts of our life.
Seligman writes: "Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope. ... Finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune is the practice of despair."
"Learned Optimism" includes a test to determine your own attributional style. And, to improve optimism, Seligman offers a solution called ABCDE. Seligman writes: "When we encounter adversity, we react by thinking about it. Our thoughts rapidly congeal into beliefs. These beliefs .... have consequences."
D is for disputation, where we find evidence against the negative beliefs, alternatives to our negative reasoning, and limit the implication of the beliefs. Seligman writes: "Much of the skill of dealing with setbacks ... consists of learning how to dispute your own first thoughts in reaction to a setback." E is for energization, which we feel after we've disputed our false, negative beliefs.
Seligman points out that optimism is essential to success in many careers and that a lack of optimism limits one's life. For example, salespeople who explain failure in personal terms often don't want to make more sales calls. And, that leads to lower performance. In hiring for certain positions, Seligman says optimism is a key criterion. Seligman worked with Met Life and showed that optimism is a crucial success factor for hiring insurance salespeople.
Organizations, too, such as a hockey team, can develop optimistic or pessimistic ways of explaining poor performance. For anyone interested in handicapping sporting events, CAVE techniques discussed in "Learned Optimism" might be helpful for separating the teams that crumble under pressure from the teams that don't.
Seligman's book shows that most elections tend to be won by the more optimistic candidate. Seligman successfully predicted several races in the 1988 elections, including the presidential primaries, the presidential election, and 25 of 29 senate races.
Seligman writes: "Among Republicans, there was also a clear winner: George Bush, far and away the most optimistic... Dole would fade fast by our predictions." [This was before Viagra].
It would be interesting to see if more current political races have been predicted with that much success. Did they continue their predictions?
The book also has an excellent discussion of the role of optimism and how it affects health. In particular, pessimism weakens the immune system. For example, in one test, rats were given cancer and three groups studied. The amount of cancer injected corresponded to a 50% chance of the rat developing cancer. One group of rats were given conditions where they could control their environment and prevent shocks. One group were given conditions where nothing they did mattered to prevent shocks. And, the control group had nothing special about their conditions and no shocks.
Seligman writes: "...50 percent of the rats not shocked had died, and the other 50% of the no-shock rats had rejected the tumor; this was the normal ratio. As for the rats that mastered shock by pressing a bar to turn it off, 70 percent rejected the tumor. But only 27 percent of the helpless rats, the rats that had experienced uncontrollable shock, rejected the tumor."
Seligman also discusses the beginnings of treatment of patients using psychological therapy for treating physical illness. Because this was started in the 1990's, it would be interesting to know what the results have been.
However, optimism isn't always best. Seligman says a pilot, for example, shouldn't be "optimistic" the wings of his plane won't ice up and fail to de-ice them before a flight. And, Seligman points out that depressed people actually have a more accurate perception of reality than optimistic people (That sort of [stinks]if you think about it.). Pessimism is useful because it forces us to confront situations where we really have no effectiveness and change course. (Relentlessly optimistic people seem to be somewhat blinded to reality.)
Seligman recommends developing a healthy and flexible optimism. Doing so should allow a person to live a fuller and richer life.
Peter Hupalo, Author of "Thinking Like An Entrepreneur"
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Book. Used by Professional Counselors, Jan. 24 2003
By 
Wendy (Clarkston, MI United States) - See all my reviews
This book was recommended to me by my psychology professor, who's also a very successful counselor in private practice. He uses this theory himself (it's been used professionally for at least 2 decades now). He told us that the cognitive behavioral therapy that's detailed in this book is a revolution in treating depressives. Dr. Seligman has identified that depressives have a pessimistic thought pattern that's destructive-- and that can be changed. Depressives tend to berate themselves with a mental brutality that's a hundred times worse than they would ever endure outside of their heads. This book identifies those negative thoughts and teaches you how to think more rationally and realistically.
There are no Stuart Smalley mindless "I'm good enough and smart enough" chants in here, no "confront your family & lovers and tell them just how much pain they've caused you" nausea. Instead, there's just sound and simple advice on how to recognize your own self-abusive thoughts and refocus them so you don't beat YOURSELF into a downward spiral of hopelessness.
The only negative I can say about this book is that there is a lot of Dr. Seligman's professional history and it has plenty of clinical justifications and statistics for the professionals. Take comfort in knowing that this is a well-researched and well-supported theory, and then skip just over this dry stuff.
Research has proven that in most cases of mild to moderate to depression, cognitive behavioral therapy is as effective as anti-depressant medication. All the good and none of the weight gain or loss of sex drive. I definitely say it's a better way to go!
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Part of Any Thinking Project, Jan. 23 2003
By A Customer
I guess you could call it my 'personal project' -- for several years I have been investing a lot of time working on improving my thinking style and emotional attitude. I have worked my way through the classic inspirational books and the more recent psychology self-help books. And I would not call Learned Optimism 'outdated' but rather 'classic' in that literature. It seems to me that different books are best for different people (Personality Psych 101). The optimistically inclined might like Learned Optimism, the realistically inclined might prefer Optimal Thinking, the pesimistic might like The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, whereas the Zen inclined might prefer How To Change Your Entire Life By Doing Absolutely Nothing .... William James called it 'Pluralism' and popular culture calls it 'Different strokes for different folks' and personality psychology calls it 'individual differences in temperament and culture.' So I recommend Learned Optimism with the understanding that people differ in optimism, pessimism, and realism in ways that make different books necessary depending on where you are coming from. Improving thinking styles does take time and effort, but improvement can make life better. Certainly Dr. Seligman's books are a potentially useful part of such a project.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Still Good -- Need to Add Balance and New Findings, Sept. 27 2002
By A Customer
This reprint edition of the original book is still good. It is based on research and theory by Dr. Seligman and other psychologists during the 1980s and earlier decades. So of course it is not up to date about the 1990s research findings limiting the benefits of optimism and demonstrating (for some people) the adaptive value of constructive pessimism. And the original optimistic bias of the American 'positive psychology' movement is now recognized by scholars such as Ed Chang to have been an overly one-sided, and thus unbalanced, theory. A good, very recent book with the new research and theory is "The Positive Power of Negative Thinking" by Julie Norem. Optimism is 51% effective, but for at least 33% of people it is a less adaptive strategy than constructive pessimism. No one-size-fits-all theory of psychological health works for human beings because individual and cultural differences are the real key. Everyone can benefit from looking at both sides of the optimism--pessimism dynamic.
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Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. Seligman (Paperback - Jan. 3 2006)
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