Saturday, June 05, 2010

Lean Green Beef

What Mrs. G. asked me to get at the grocery store. Inadvertent, but too funny. A keeper.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Learned Optimism 3: What is Pessimism For?

In Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman makes a good case for the many benefits of optimism. So, he asks, what is pessimism for? Why did it get selected for in evolution?

The answer is that pessimists are more accurate about what was and is than optimists are.

In any organization, Seligman argues, you need the optimists to pursue a vision of the future in the face of adversity. And you need some pessimistic bean counters to keep accurate tabs on what resources you actually have and what actions are actually happening now.

I like this balance, even dialectic, of complementary types.

As I argued yesterday, though, I think Seligman is wrong about what optimism is. He conflates optimism and cheerfulness. He sees optimism as the ability to persist in doing in the face of obstacles. He does not have a place for cheerful realism, the ability to accurately see the good and bad in the world, and remain cheerful. His account of optimism tends to reduce virtues to psychological traits that help us achieve the end of getting what we seek. He does not really have a place for virtues as habits of action that let us live in a good way, whether that achieves the ends we seek or not.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Learned Optimism 2: Is Seligman Right About Optimism?

In Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman says that if you have a pessimistic explanatory style, when something bad happens to you, you blame yourself. I think he is right.

Seligman then goes on to say that if you have an optimistic explanatory style, when something bad happens to you, you blame it on others.

I do not think this is right. I do not think this is what optimism means. And I don't think these are the only choices. The bad effect on you could be the effect of social structure - of the unintended consequences of other people's actions, which were not bad in themselves or aimed at you. The bad effect could be due to nature, or even higher forces.

This individual focus - either it is my fault or it is your fault - may be an occupational hazard of psychology. Or it may be that he had found some test items that correlate with the opposite of pessimism, some of which are related to optimism, and some of which are not.

I think Seligman is right about pessimism, but wrong about optimism.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Learned Optimism 1: What is a Pessimistic Explanatory Style?

This week I will be blogging on Martin Seligman's Learned Optimism, one of the fundamental books of positive psychology.

I think Seligman's starting point is true and powerful. If, when faced with adversity, you habitually believe that:

a) it is your fault;
b) it is due to a pervasive fault of yours; and
c) that this fault ruins your life; then

many things in your life, and the lives of others you interact with, will be made worse as a result.

In Seligman's terms, a pessimistic explanatory style will produce worse results than an alternative, more optimistic explanation of adversity will.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Commencement Closes a Loop

We went back to alma mater, Swarthmore College, for the eldest Gruntled child's happy graduation.

The entire ceremony was great. When the streaming video (which was broadcast live) is available I will post the link.

I asked in a post some years ago "Does Swarthmore Reproduce My Family, Or Does My Family Reproduce Swarthmore?" The answer is "yes."

A loop has been closed.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Completing a Grand Loop in the Life Cycle

Today our eldest child graduates from college.

In our specific era and class, this is her real graduation into independent adulthood. We will, of course, continue to love and help her all of our days. But from now on she will not be temporarily away from our home, but a person with her own center of gravity elsewhere, who pays us welcome visits.

Adding to this sense of completion of a loop is the fact that she is graduating from our alma mater.

And for a further dash of sweetness, yesterday we walked by the Meeting House on campus where we were married, 28 years before that moment.