Often described as the father of Positive Psychology, Dr. Seligman draws on over twenty years of clinical research demonstrating how optimism helps relieve depression and contributes to the quality of life – and shows you how anyone can easily learn to practice it.
Beginning with his experiences as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania in the 60’s, Seligman describes his groundbreaking discoveries about learned helplessness and the resulting resistance to his ideas by then dominant behavioral psychologists. The story of how the young Seligman challenged his colleagues by proving that helplessness can be learned – and more importantly, unlearned – is fascinating. (I for one am grateful for his persistence.) More importantly, Seligman provides tools for you to begin developing your own optimism.
Up until recently, psychological therapy only offered relief of symptoms – and then all too rarely. But helping patients cope with depression, anxiety and other mood disorders usually didn’t lead to happiness. Frustrated, Seligman was determined to find a way to help people have more fulfilling lives. At one point he realized that perhaps psychology needed to focus less on problems and more on what factors contribute to happiness.
From the Preface to the Vintage edition:
“When I first began to work on learned optimism, I thought I was working on pessimism. Like almost all researchers with a background in clinical psychology, I was accustomed to focusing on what was wrong with individuals and then on how to fix it. Looking closely at what was already right and how to make it even better did not enter mind… At it’s best psychology had only told us how to relieve misery, not how to find what is best in life and live it accordingly. This was the unbaked half that would become Positive Psychology.”
The book includes questionnaires for both adults and children to give you an idea of your basic level of optimism. He also talks about how a person’s explanatory style can contribute to experiencing more – or less – happiness. Learned Optimism also provides several simple practices designed to incorporate more optimism into many areas of daily life – work, school, sports, health, even politics and religion – for both individuals and organizations. Parents will appreciate the special emphasis on how to raise optimistic children.
“Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.” ~ Martin Seligman
Learned Optimism, How to Change Your Mind and Your Life is the foundation of Seligman’s series of books on Positive Psychology which includes Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment and The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience.
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