Learned Optimism


Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

By Dr. Martin Seligman (1990, 1998, 2006)





What the Book is About:

Known as the father of the new science of Positive Psychology, Martin E.P. Seligman draws on more than twenty years of clinical research to demonstrate how optimism enhances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it. 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. 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. (from Amazon.com)

Keith’s Reflections:

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was both intellectually stimulating and personally inspiring. Seligman’s research, stories, personal writing style, and hopeful conclusions intrigued me and spurred me to consider deeply whether my way of explaining what happens in my life is a half-empty (pessimistic) or half-full (optimistic) perspective. The studies he cites and explains made this a very important matter to discern.

Scientific research proves that people who intentionally think about what they have to be grateful for on a regular basis and who maintain a positive, optimistic perspective about life in general strengthen their immune systems, decrease illness, earn more money, have longer lasting and more meaningful relationships, and are all around happier and more satisfied with their lives. This includes parenting and enjoying relationships with our children of all ages.

Seligman’s great interest academically is in what he calls “learned helplessness” and how this disposition and conclusion many people adopt actually leads to and prolong depression. He is profoundly worried about the epidemic of depression in our society, particularly among young people.

Seligman provides questionnaires in the book to test our own level of optimism as well as our children’s. I took the test myself, and gave it to all three of my sons. It was fascinating for me to see how they answered each question and to tally their results that showed me, and them, how optimistic they are. Really great stuff!

“The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe that bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe that defeat is just a temporary setback or a challenge, that its causes are just confined to this one case.” – Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism, 1991.

For More Information:


The Author:

Martin Seligman was born on August 12, 1942 in Albany, New York. After graduating high school, he attended Princeton University where he earned an A.B. degree in 1964. In 1967, he earned a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.

After working as an assistant professor at Cornell University, he returned to teach psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. During this time, he began researching learned helpless. Seligman discovered that when people feel they have no control over their situation, they tend to give up rather than fight for control. His research on helplessness and pessimism had important implications in the prevention and treatment of depression.

Seligman’s work researching learned pessimistic attitudes eventually led him to develop an interest in optimism, an interest that would eventually lead to the emergence of a new branch of psychology. In 1995, an important conversation with his daughter, Nikki, helped change the direction of his research. While weeding in the garden, Seligman became perturbed and yelled at his daughter. In a keynote address to the North Carolina Psychological Association, Seligman described how his daughter sternly reminded him that she had not whined once since she had vowed to give up whining on her fifth birthday. If she was capable of giving up whining, she reasoned, her father should be able to ” stop being such a grouch.”

In 1996, Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association by the largest vote in the organization’s history. Each APA president is asked to choose a central theme for his or her term and Seligman selected positive psychology. Rather than focus on what ails us, he wanted mental health to be about more than just the absence of illness. Instead, Seligman strove to usher in a new era of psychology that also concentrates on what makes people feel happy and fulfilled. Today, Seligman is the director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

(from http://psychology.about.com/od/profilesmz/p/martin-seligman.htm)

Target Audience:

It seems to me that this book is written with the popular audience at large in view, not the academic audience scrutinizing his data and conclusions. Seligman’s interest is clearly in helping more pessimistic people learn the skills of optimism, teaching people who have learned any degree of helplessness that they can make choices to redirect their minds and therefore their entire lives.

I include this book and review because I find it a very good fit with my work helping dads heal their father wound, change their thinking about themselves as men, and as fathers, and learn new skills that will not only make them more successful fathers, but much happier and more fulfilled dads.

For any man interested in increasing his optimistic outlook on life, and thereby experiencing the remarkable benefits of optimism, including better relationships with his children, and likely happier kids, this is a very good and enlightening read.


Click on the book image to find this book on Amazon.com


Recent Posts

When Our Kids Amaze us

Have you had one of those moments when one of your kids amazed you with how grown up they seem, how articulate they are, or how mature they’ve become, as if you missed a few years of their development somehow? And there they are now, standing before you as a wonderful young man or woman. Where did the time go?

Who is this lovely creature?

I had that experience last May when my two oldest boys, JD and Cal, now sixteen and almost fifteen, went to their spring formal dressed in sport coats and ties. I looked at these two handsome young men in wonder. And truly they looked like men, and they carried themselves that way. I shook my head, and I felt so proud of them.


I had that wonder-filled experience again a few weeks ago when a friend of mine, Dr. Lori, suggested she interview my youngest son, Kai, about an experience he and I had with one of my painting customers (I’m bi-vocational). She heard Kai tell the story earlier and thought it would be great for other dads to hear. They had so much fun planning it together, and the idea quickly grew to include several other subjects, all related to The Great Dads Project.

I shot the video, and stood there with my mouth hanging open most of the time. I could hardly believe this was my little twelve-year-old son still in braces. His thoughts, ideas, suggestions, insights, humor, and his way with words floored me. Seriously, this kid could be an actor. He was so comfortable on camera, and carried himself with such poise, grace, and presence. I’m not kidding. I know, I’m his dad, I’m bound to think he’s great. But seriously, check this out for yourself, and see if you don’t think he’s as great as I do. Enjoy.


If you like this, leave a comment below, and share
a story about a time one of your kids amazed you.


To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

Large Book with Outline


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