Learned Optimism – How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.
Until I read this book, what I knew about optimists and pessimists was pretty much encapsulated in such jokes as: “An optimist is a 90-year-old who marries and looks for a house near a school.”
Don’t let the title of this book fool you: it’s not “rah-rah” for positive thinking. Seligman paints a balanced picture based on years of research and does not encourage optimism when your circumstances demand pessimism. Nonetheless, his professional study of helplessness and ways to enlarge personal control leads him to argue strongly for the overall benefits of optimism.
Because I focus on fostering happiness in the workplace, I particularly enjoyed the chapter “Success at Work.” In it are real-world examples of the usefulness of both optimism and pessimism on the job. You could argue, for example, that the top executives at Enron were much too optimistic for their own good, not to mention that of their employees and stockholders! On the other hand, who wants to work for a doomsayer boss?
Favorite insight from the book: The genius of evolution lies in the dynamic way that optimism and pessimism constantly correct each other.