Book Review: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

How optimistic are you?

I am optimistic. I learned that when I read Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin Seligman. Yes, there’s a test for how optimistic you are. Why does it matter how optimistic you are?

Optimists do better in school, college, at work, and in sports. He says so, in the book. Why? Because pessimists give up. It’s partly learned helplessness. I think it’s because of the growth mindset. (He discusses the growth mindset later in the book.)

But it doesn’t matter what your intrinsic approach to life is, optimistic or pessimistic. You can learn to be more optimistic. You might never be as optimistic as I am. (I’m way positive/hopeful on the curve of optimism.) You can learn to be a little bit more optimistic. It’s all about how you explain things to yourself, your explanatory style. Your explanatory style is how you explain setbacks to yourself. Are they permanent, pervasive, deadly, horrible things? Are they problems to be solved, something you will overcome, a setback in your life? Something you might learn from?

Seligman says that

“pessimists drop below their “potential” and optimists exceed it.”

Fascinating, eh?

There are more good things in this book, including self-assessments, also known as tests, so you can determine if you or people you care about are at risk of  depression.

Now, you have to realize that I ran away from all psychology classes and other social sciences when I was in school. Ran away. I took math, science, technology, English, mass communications, and philosophy classes. I had to take some other classes to graduate, but I managed to avoid all social science classes when I was an undergraduate. I’m new to this kind of thing. I have slowly been learning about things the rest of you probably already learned. As I often say, I am a work in progress.

Notice how I said that. My explanatory style is optimistic. I didn’t bemoan the number of years lost. I said, “Well, here I am, learning about this now.” That’s an optimistic style.

If you are building your emotional resilience, consider reading this book. I still think you need realistic optimism. Wild optimism is crazy. But, being optimistic in general? Not having learned helplessness? Keeping the growth mindset? That’s a great thing.

I didn’t read this book cover to cover in one sitting. I had to read it and think about it. If you are struggling with a condition, as a I am, I recommend it. If you are not always optimistic, and you would like to be, the exercises about changing your explanatory style are great. If you are a parent and you would like to be more optimistic, or raise more optimistic children, read this book. Especially if you are a parent and you have a tendency to blame the world around you, consider reading this book. You want to be able to say, “What can I do now? What is my next step?” A more optimistic style, not learned helplessness is key for those questions.

You can decide if you want to be more optimistic. Learned helplessness is not good for you. Pessimism is not good for you. I still don’t think that unrealistic optimism is good for you. But having an explanatory style that helps you pick yourself up and continue to live a great life? That’s great.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

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    1. johanna Post author

      Matt, let me know how you like the audio book. I read the ebook, and was able to do the tests as I proceeded. I wonder that will be like with the audio book. Well, maybe you will let me know!

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