Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

By Martin Seligman –

p. iii “Curing the negatives does not produce the positives.”

p. iv “The skills of becoming happy turn out to be almost entirely different from the skills of not being sad, not being anxious, or not being angry.”

p. vii “Self-esteem seems only to be a symptom, a correlate, of how well a person is doing in the world.”

p. 3-10 There are 2 ways to look at life’s occurrences: optimistically or pessimistically. Both ways of thinking seriously affect many aspects of a person’s life (work, health etc.)

**p. 13 “Failure can occur when talent and desire are present in abundance, but optimism is missing.”

p. 14 “Dealing with depression, achievement, and physical health are 3 of the most obvious applications of learned optimism.”

p. 24 “All you have to do to change the person is to change the environment.” (a view once, but no longer, held by behavioral psychologists)

p. 33-39 Test of Personal Optimism

p. 44-51 How to score the test

p. 44 “Your habitual way of explaining bad events, your explanatory style, stems directly from your view of your place in the world.”

p. 44 “There are 3 crucial dimensions to your explanatory style: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization.”

p. 44 “If you think about bad things in always’s and never’s and abiding traits, you have a permanent, pessimistic style. If you think in sometimes’s and lately’s, if you use qualifiers and blame bad events on transient conditions, you have an optimistic style.”

p. 45 “People who believe good events have permanent causes are more optimistic than people who believe they have temporary causes.”

p. 46 “People who make universal explanations for their failures give up on everything when a failure strikes in one area. People who make specific explanations may become helpless in that one part of their life yet march stalwartly on in the others.”

p. 48 “Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope.”

p. 50 “People who believe they cause good things tend to like themselves better than people who believe good things come from other people or circumstances.”

p. 52 “The question is whether or not changing beliefs about failure from internal to external will undermine responsibility.” (a question the author posses. He believes that one should only do this if a person is depressed)

p. 53 If you are a pessimist then:

  • You are likely to get depressed easily
  • You are probably achieving less at work
  • You are probably not as healthy as you could be
  • Life is not as pleasurable as it should or could be

p. 59-63 Test of depression and scoring of test

p. 75 “Rumination combined with pessimistic explanatory style is the recipe for severe depression.”

p. 89-90 Cognitive therapy uses 5 tactics:

  1. “You learn to recognize the automatic thoughts flitting through your consciousness at the times you feel worst.”
  2. “You learn to dispute the automatic thoughts by marshaling contrary evidence.”
  3. “You learn to make different explanations, call reattributions, and use them to dispute your automatic thoughts.”
  4. “You learn how to distract yourself from depressing thoughts.”
  5. “You learn to recognize and question the depression-sowing assumptions governing so much of what you do.”

p. 90 “Life consists of putting my fingers in the biggest leaks in the dam.”

p. 91 “Often we distort reality [for ourselves] more than drunks do.”

**p. 101 Aptitude, motivation and optimism are the 3 most needed characteristics in order to obtain success at a challenging job.

p. 109 “There is considerable evidence that depressed people, though sadder, are wiser.”

p. 109 “Poor social skills are a symptom of depression.”

p. 111 “There is clear evidence that non-depressed people distort reality in a self-serving direction and depressed people tend to see reality accurately.”

p. 113 “There are times and places where we need our pessimism.”

p. 125 “On a whole, prepubescent children are extremely optimistic.”

p. 127 “Explanatory style sets in early.”

p. 149 In younger children, “the average boy will have many more depressive symptoms and suffer more severe depression than the average girl.”

p. 154 “I have come to think that the notion of potential, without the notion of optimism, has very little meaning.”

p. 163 Data from studies on professional basketball and baseball players show:

  • “Teams, and not just individuals, have a meaningful and measurable explanatory style.”
  • “Explanatory style predicts how teams will do above and beyond how ‘good’ a team is.”
  • Success on the playing field is predicted by optimism and failure on the playing field is predicted by pessimism.”
  • Explanatory style works by means of how a team does under pressure-after a loss or in the late innings of close games.”

p.171 “The mind can indeed control illness.”

p.174 “People who isolate themselves when they are sick tend to get sicker.”

p.179 “The way we look at bad events—our theory of tragedy—remains fixed across our lives.”

p. 185-198 Seligman partnered up with Harold Zullow to investigate the optimism of past presidents and their opponents in all the elections from 1900-1984. Their results then led them to try and predict the 1988 election. Their final prediction was that Bush would beat Dukakis by 9.2%; when the votes were actually tallied, Bush won by 8.2%.

p. 192 “In the 22 presidential elections from 1900 through 1984, Americans chose the more optimistic-sounding candidate eighteen times. In all elections in which an underdog pulled off an upset, he was the more optimistic candidate. The margin of victory was very strongly related to the margin in pessrum (pessimism and rumination), with landslides won by candidates who were much more optimistic than their opponents.”

p. 198-202 Gabriele zu Oettingen-Oettingen und Oettingen-Spielberg conducted a study to see if East and West Berliners differed in their optimism after their city was divided between the differing political systems of the U.S. and Russia. She found that East Berliners display much more despair—as measured by both words and body language—than West Berliners. However, it was not totally conclusive that the 2 different governments were the specific cause of her results.

**p. 207 OVERVIEW THUS FAR: “Life inflicts the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as on the pessimist, but the optimist weathers them better. As we have seen, the optimist bounces back from defeat, and, with his life somewhat poorer, he picks up and starts again. The pessimist gives up and falls into depression. Because of his resilience, the optimist achieves more at work, at school and on the playing field. The optimist has better physical health and may even live longer. Americans want optimists to lead them. Even when things go well for the pessimist, he is haunted by forebodings of catastrophe.”

p.208-209 Guidelines for Using Optimism:

A. Use Optimism if:

1. You are in an achievement situation (getting a promotion, selling a product,

writing a difficult report, winning a game).

2. You are concerned about how you will feel (fighting off depression,

keeping up morale, etc.)

3. If the situation is apt to be protracted and your physical health is an issue

4. If you want to lead or inspire people or if you want people to vote for you

B. Do not use optimism if:

1. You goal is to plan for a risky or uncertain future

2. Your goal is to counsel others whose future is dim

3. If you want to appear sympathetic to the troubles of others, don’t start with

optimism (but use it later)

p. 217 “There are two general ways for you to deal with your pessimistic beliefs once you are aware of them. The first is simply to distract yourself when they occur—try to think of something else. The 2nd is to dispute them. Disputing is more effective in the long run, because successfully disputed beliefs are less likely to recur when the same situation presents itself again.”

p. 220 Four important ways to make your disputation convincing

  1. Evidence (The most convincing way of disputing a negative belief is to show that it is factually incorrect. p. 221)
  2. Alternatives (Almost nothing that happens to you has just one cause. p. 221)
  3. Implications (Often there are many possible implications; don’t just focus on the negative
  4. Usefulness (Sometimes the consequences of holding a belief matter more than the truth of the belief. p. 223).

**p. 255 “Everyone has his own point of discouragement, his own wall. What you do when you hit this wall can spell the difference between helplessness and mastery, between failure and success.”

p. 256 “Optimistic individuals produce more, particularly under pressure, than do pessimists.”

p. 256-257 “Every successful company, every successful life for that matter, requires both accurate appreciation of reality and the ability to dream beyond the present reality.”

p. 282 “This is the age of personal control.”

p. 282-283 “The deciding, choosing, hedonistically preoccupied individual became big business. When the individual has a lot of money to spend, individualism becomes a powerful, and profitable, worldview.”

p. 283 “Inflated expectations are rooted in the expansion of choice.”

p. 284 “The life committed to nothing larger than itself is a meager life indeed.”

**p. 291 “Optimism is a tool to help the individual achieve the goals he has set for himself. It is in the choice of the goals themselves that meaning—or emptiness—resides.”

The bottom line: Optimism can be learned – and to much positive effect.