Practical Advice from ‘Learned Optimism’ by Martin E. P. Seligman (An Actionable Books summary)

“One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.”

Learned Optimism, page 8

Al Capp’s satirical comic strip Li’l Abner introduced an iconic character, Joe Btfsplk. Joe walked around with a dark cloud over his head — literally. He brought misfortune everywhere he went. In one sequence, he escaped his cloud, but took it back, accepting that was just who he was: the little guy with the dark cloud over his head.

It’s common to believe that some of us are born with a sunny outlook and others are doomed to life under a dark cloud.

It’s not true.

Optimism can be learned and pessimism overcome.

A pioneer in the field of positive psychology, Martin E. P. Seligman has spent decades studying negative and positive thinking, developing practical methods to transform the former into the latter.

Whether we are pessimistic or optimistic depends on whether we see adversities as

  • permanent
  • pervasive
  • personal


  • temporary
  • specific to these circumstances
  • not our fault

Optimism, it turns out, is a skill each of us can learn. Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • Optimism is a Learnable Skill
  • Changing Our Belief About Adversity Changes its Consequence
  • Disputing Negative Thinking by Analyzing Evidence, Alternatives, Implications, and Usefulness

Read my summary of Learned Optimism at Actionable Books.

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