“Learned Optimism” Quotes

I recently finished reading Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin Seligman. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. As always, if you like the quotes, please buy the book here.

Learned Optimism Cover“Women, in fact, being more emotionally labile, are both happier and sadder than men. The skills fo becoming happy turn out to be almost entirely different from the skills of not being sad, not being anxious, or not being angry.” (iv)

“”Happiness” is a scientifically unwieldy notion, but there are three different forms of it you can pursue. For the “Pleasant Life,” you aim to have as much positive emotion as possible and learn the skills to amplify positive emotion. For the “Engaged Life,” you identify your highest strengths and talents and recraft your life to use them as much as you can in work, love, friendship, parenting, and leisure. For the “Meaningful Life,” you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.” (iv)

“In a society in which individualism is becoming rampant, people more and more believe that they are the center of the world. Such a belief system makes individual failure almost inconsolable.” (vi)

“The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe 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 defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case. The optimists believe defeat is not their fault: Circumstances, bad luck, or other people brought it about. Such people are unfazed by defeat. Confronted by a bad situation, they perceive it as a challenge and try harder.” (5)

“Twenty-five years of study has convinced me that if we habitually believe, as does the pessimist, that misfortune is our fault, is enduring, and will undermine everything we do, more of it will befall us than if we believe otherwise. I am also convinced that if we are in the grip of this view, we will get depressed easily, we will accomplish less than our potential, and we will even get physically sick more often. Pessimistic prophecies are self-fulfilling.” (7)

“Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.” (8)

“When failure occurs, it is because either talent or desire is missing. But failure also can occur when talent and desire are present in abundance but optimism is missing.” (13)

“Changing the destructive things you say to yourself when you experience the setbacks that life deals all of us is the central skill of optimism.” (15)

“People who give up easily believe the causes of the bad events that happen to them are permanent: The bad events will persist, will always be there to affect their lives. People who resist helplessness believe the causes of bad events are temporary.” (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.” (44)

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

“People who believe good events have permanent causes try even harder after they succeed. People who see temporary reasons for good events may give up even when they succeed, believing success was a fluke.” (46)

“It comes down to this: 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 lives yet march stalwartly on in the others.” (46)

“People who blame themselves when they fail have low self-esteem as a consequence. They think they are worthless, talentless, and unlovable. People who blame external events do not lose self-esteem when bad events strike. On the whole, they like themselves better than people who blame themselves do.” (49)

“Maybe what looks like a symptom of depression – negative thinking – is the disease. Depression, he argued courageously, is neither bad brain chemistry nor anger turned inward. It is a disorder of conscious thought.” (73)

“Depression results from lifelong habits of conscious thought. If we change these habits of thought, we will cure depression. Let’s make a direct assault on conscious thought, we said, using everything we know to change the way our patients think about bad events.” (75)

“Working wives are less depressed, on average, than wives who do not work outside the home.” (85)

“People who believe themselves stupid, rather than uneducated, don’t take action to improve their minds.” (87)

“The belief in self-improvement is a prophecy just as self-fulfilling as the old belief that character could not be changed.” (88)

“The difference between Sophie and someone who takes antidepressant drugs is that she learned a set of skills to use whenever she is faced with failure or defeat – skills she always carries with her. Her victory over depression is hers alone, not something she must credit to doctors and the latest medication.” (91)

“My profession spends most of its time (and almost all of its money) trying to make the troubled less troubled. Helping troubled people is a worthy goal, but somehow psychology almost never gets around to the complementary goal of making the lives of well people even better.” (96)

“Success requires persistence, the ability to not give up in the face of failure. I believe that optimistic explanatory style is the key to persistence.” (101)

“The explanatory-style theory of success says that in order to choose people for success in a challenging job, you need to select for three characteristics: 1. aptitude 2. motivation 3. optimism All three determine success.” (101)

“Depressed people – most of whom turn out to be pessimists – accurately judge how much control they have. Nondepressed people – optimists, for the most part – believe they have much more control over things than they actually do, particularly when they are helpless and have no control at all.” (109)

“Typically we are more depressed when we wake up, and as the day goes on we become more optimistic.” (113)

“On the whole, prepubescent children are extremely optimistic, with a capacity for hope and an immunity to hopelessness they will never again possess after puberty.” (125)

“One particular component of depression, hopelessness, is the most accurate predictor of suicide.” (126)

“He had isolated three protective factors. If any single one of the three was present, depression would not occur, even in the face of severe loss and privation. The first protective factor was an intimate relationship with a spouse or a lover. Such women could fight depression off well. The second was a job outside the home. The third was not having three or more children under the age of fourteen at home to take care of.” (134)

“In addition to invulnerability factors, Brown had isolated two major risk factors for depression: recent loss (husband dying, son emigrating) and, more important, death of their own mothers before the women had reached their teens.” (134)

“First – and most important – the children of divorce do badly, by and large. Tested twice a year, these children are much more depressed than the children from intact families. We had hoped the difference would diminish over time, but it doesn’t. Three years later, the children of divorce are still much more depressed than the other children.” (145)

“A team’s explanatory style for bad events strongly predicts how they do against the point spread after a loss in the next season. The optimistic teams cover the spread more often than the pessimistic teams do.” (163)

“Helplessness [in rats] produced more rapid growth of tumors.” (170)

“They found that the immune system turned down during grieving.” (177)

“All this evidence makes it clear that your psychological state can change your immune response. Bereavement, depression, and pessimism all can lower your immune system’s activity.” (178)

“We found that explanatory style for good events was completely changeable across fifty years. The same person could, for example, at one point in life regard good events as due to blind fate and at another time as due to his own skill. But we found that explanatory style for bad events was highly stable across a period of more than fifty years.” (178)

“Before age forty-five optimism has no effect on health. Until that age the men remained in the same state of health as at age twenty-five. But at age forty-five the male body starts its decline. How fast and how severely it does so is well predicted by pessimism twenty-five years earlier.” (181)

“The presidential candidates who were much more optimistic than their opponents won in landslides.” (190)

“We found that merely repeating positive statements to yourself does not raise mood or achievement very much, if it all. It is how you cope with negative statements that has an effect.” (221)

“To dispute your own beliefs, scan for all possible contributing causes. Focus on the changeable (not enough time spent studying), the specific (this particular exam was uncharacteristically hard) and the nonpersonal (the professor graded unfairly) causes.” (222)

“Schedule a specific time for thinking things over. It might be a half hour this evening or any other time that fits into your day. When you find yourself ruminating, you can say to yourself, “Stop! I’ll tackle that at seven thirty this evening.” The tormenting process of worrisome thoughts going round and round, coming back again and again, has a purpose. to make sure we don’t forget or neglect an issue we should deal with. But if we set aside a specific time for thinking the issue over, we undercut the very reason for brooding now, so the brooding is no longer psychologically necessary.” (277)

As always, if you liked the quotes, please buy the book here.

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