Learned Optimism


Are you a pessimist? Is it better to be an optimist than a pessimist? Can you learn to become an optimist even if you are not one yet? These are some of the questions answered by this book, Learned Optimism by Dr. Martin Seligman, known as the father of Positive Psychology.

I find the book very interesting, but not “life changing” like some Amazon reviewer wrote. It contains a test that will tell you whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. In the end you will be able to understand your own explanatory style, i.e. how you tend to explain good and bad events. I found the exercise illuminating, and thought provoking. When you blame yourself for a project’s failure, are you being pessimistic, or responsible? Having done the test myself and had my husband do it, both of us Chinese, I’ve also come to a prediction that most highly educated Chinese people, especially people like us who majored in engineering, will probably test to be pessimist, like we both did. It’s a baseless speculation on my part, and won’t be proved unless all my Chinese friends go and take the test (by the way it’s available under Questionaires->Optimism at www.authentichappiness.org, free registration required). Well, it’s not entirely baseless, it has to do with how we were raised and taught, but I won’t elaborate further because if I do it will ruin the test for anyone who is interested in taking it.

The disputation techniques introduced in the later part of the book are interesting. I can see it being helpful to some extent but am not sure how effective it really can be in practice. Maybe I’m just hopelessly pessimistic and hard-headed. :-(


17 responses to “Learned Optimism

  1. I know I am pessimistic and I think I might look into the book (sounds like something I need).
    I think your theory would prove fairly true with many Chinese. I am not Chinese, but my better half is. I would bet she would test even more pessimistic than me.
    I am at least optimistic enough to hope I can learn optimism :)

  2. exactly! at least we should try…

    I don’t know if I can honestly say I’ve “learned” it after reading the book, after all the major portion of the book was talking about how optimists are/do better in life rather than how to become one, but I did take away something from the book that I’m trying to consciously apply to my way of thinking about things now.

    nice to “see” you, James!

    • The first 2 I totally did; went to coellge for a job to get by and had my kids. #3 I’m struggling with. I think it will only work if you have a person on the other end you can hash it out with. If you don’t I’m not sure how well it would work. I totally see myself telling my kids to go to coellge. I don’t think any of them will have the drive to be a Dr or know so soon what they want to be and I agree University isn’t the place for that. For me, I’m thinking of going back to University for something totally different than what I do now and I think that is totally ok and kind of cool. :)Great post!

    • I am currently fiinhsing up my BA in Child Development and Family Studies and thus far I have only work with children from 2 weeks to adolescent while helping support their families. The Physician that I would want to work under is an Obstetrics (OB) because they are in direct contact with pregnant women and their children during pregnancy. I would choose this particular specialty for a variety of reason such as having the opportunity to see individuals become parent for the first time, seeing how much love is surrounded in the process, being there to help the mothers while there in a vulnerable state. One of my main reasons is because I think that the whole birthing process is fascinating and to be able to be a part of family’s lives while going through this process, I imagine to be extremely rewarding.A of physician specialty that I would least want to work with would be a psychiatrist. Although I believe that psychiatrist do some spectacular work and help a lot of people through difficult situations I personally believe that this job would be to emotionally draining and overwhelming for me. This makes me question whether or not I would be able to handle it. When I set out to do a job my goal is to do the best that I can and I don’t feel that I could successfully do this job to the best of my ability.

    • For me this is a relatively easy quoesitn, but has a pretty complex answer. The specialty I have actually looked forward to working with is OB/GYN. I find that the ability of a woman’s body to produce a child, endure the amount of abuse it takes during a pregnancy, and the amount of pain endured during delivery is amazing. The joy of being able to be present as life enters the world is truly one of the greatest moments in life. To me that would be the best possible option. I also would love working in the operating room with a surgeon. I have experienced the OR quite a few times, and have been on both sides of the table. I have to say I would love to work with any surgeon in the OR except for Orthopedics. The reason behind that is the surgery’s are pretty brutal when it comes to the skeletal system. Having been in the OR with an Orthopedic surgeon and seeing the use of the saws, hammers and other heavy equipment in order to perform the surgery just sends chills up my spine. I know that type of surgery is not for me. I think my favorite surgeries have to be that of the abdominal cavity. The specialties that I would least like to work for are few, and for simple reasons. Pediatrics is not a specialty for me since I have four children of my own. My Aunt is a neonatal nurse practitioner and I followed her in high school and saw the good, the bad, and the ugly so I can honestly say I could not emotionally handle that type of position. Podiatry is also an area I could not see myself working. The reason behind this is pretty silly, but here goes, I very much dislike other peoples feet especially if they are not well kept. I know in the medical field you will encounter feet on a daily basis, but I could not mainly work with feet on an everyday basis. My last specialty is Orthopedics for the reasons I noted above about the barbaric nature of the surgeries and treatments for the musculoskeletal system. Its just not for me.

    • Thanks for taking the time to post. It’s lifted the level of debate

  3. Interesting book. Those questions it raised are definitely hard to answer. Although I think I am optimistic most of the time, I still need to take the test to find out. :)

    Why do you think it’s hard to change the mind set?

  4. The technique he introduced is to constantly *dispute* your pessimistic explanation of events, kind of like having an internal dialogue arguing with yourself. I’m not saying it’s not useful but am just not sure if it will work all the time.

    take the test!

  5. Sounds like a fascinating book. I don’t think it’s my nature to be optimistic, but I do ask myself what feels better; doom and gloom, or happiness? Or, at least, how can I look at a situation a little differently, to see if there is good in it? Is that different than arguing with myself? It’s seems so, a little bit, to me. :)

  6. that’s the gist of it i think… and it’s something i feel most people is already doing, that’s why i was a little disappointed to find out the author didn’t introduce something totally new and ground breaking for me to learn… :-p

  7. Let’s say you’re an optimistic person and a pessimistic person comes along and ruins your day. Now is this a case for the pessimist rubbing off the behavior on the optimist and converting him into a pessimist or was the person solely a pessimist to begin with who could not learn to keep optimistism in the face of another pessimist? Just a question.

  8. chances are if you need to read a book about how to do it, you are not the type of person that can easily change thier own mind

  9. I am also commenting to make you usrdentand what a really good discovery my cousin’s daughter obtained studying your site. She came to usrdentand a wide variety of pieces, most notably what it’s like to have a wonderful helping style to get other people effortlessly usrdentand several complicated subject areas. You undoubtedly exceeded readers’ desires. Many thanks for presenting those warm and helpful, healthy, revealing and also cool thoughts on that topic to Mary.

    • January 31, 2012I spent the first 80% of my life as a cynic and perpetual pssiimset. It wasn’t until I became interesting in personal development that I learned that everything we experience is the product of our mind. And that humans have a sense of self-awareness that allows us to *choose* how we perceive and react to the world around us. It’s an extremely powerful principle and it’s what allows us to choose to be realistically optimistic.

    • Since there is so many fields of spieaeltics that I have a choice of, I still really can’t choose one. So I am going base on my personal experiences. My original goal back in high school and maybe even before that, was to work in a Neonatal ICU! I had a brother that passed before he had his first birthday from heart complications, and that year I spent a lot of time at hospitals with my parents. My goal the first couple of years was to work with babies just like him. That was until I had my own children, I would of still loved to have worked in that career field but the heart ache I would most likely endure when one of those babies did not make it home. I could not have handled!On to more positive experiences, I have worked with the elderly and Geriatrics interests me very much. Being surrounded with people that have lived a fulfilled life is so much more rewarding. Even though at times it is the ending stages of their lives, and it is sad when someone does pass. It’s less of a heartache to know that most of the time they are ready to move on. They are still very dependent on you and when you are able to help them with their needs that’s the most rewarding of all, plus you form a special relationship with the patients and their families.

    • Help, I’ve been informed and I can’t become ignorant.

    • It occasionally actually inquires, when an incident is investigated by an insurance QuotesChimp. Frequently, including critiquing your previous health-related records and also additional useful content. Perhaps you are requested to signal mandates for the business to get such owner’s manual, that you should do unless you might have legitimate reasons for refusing the petition (like being requested to reveal personal info which doesn’t have anything regarding your state).

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