What is learned optimism in positive psychology?

Ronald Siegel
Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that studies mental health rather than illness, seeking to learn how normal life can be more fulfilling, and to identify the practices that individuals and communities can use to foster greater happiness.

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman broke new ground in the 1990s with his concept of "learned optimism," widely considered a precursor to today's study of happiness. Learned optimism was an outgrowth of Seligman's earlier work on the concept of "learned helplessness," the apathy and depression that can ensue when people or animals are placed in aversive situations where they have little control (like a baby whose cries are never answered). Seligman described optimism as a trait of most happy people, and found that optimism could be nurtured by teaching people to challenge their patterns of negative thinking and to appreciate their strengths. This idea that people can become happier by bolstering and using their inherent strengths is central to positive psychology.

Continue Learning about Personality

All About You: Personality Trait or Disorder?
All About You: Personality Trait or Disorder?
Is your personality trait idiosyncratic and somewhat endearing? Or is it so destructive that it changes the way you and others around you live? With ...
Read More
Are extroverts happier than introverts?
Discovery HealthDiscovery Health
Extroverts have been shown to have higher levels of happiness, but researchers say they might just h...
More Answers
How do people get lost in their pain?
Deepak ChopraDeepak Chopra
Pain has a subjective component and how we assess pain is completely individual. By not renouncing t...
More Answers
Why Does Death Scare Us?
Why Does Death Scare Us?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.