Half Empty, Half Full: Understanding the Psychological Roots of Optimism

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9780156011006: Half Empty, Half Full: Understanding the Psychological Roots of Optimism

Why do some people lead positive, hope-filled lives, while others wallow in pessimism? In her groundbreaking book, Half Empty, Half Full, leading psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and researcher Susan C. Vaughan reveals the specific character traits that produce highly hopeful individuals and offers fresh and helpful advice on how to become a more optimistic person. Examining the origins of optimism in early childhood and presenting new evidence for the role of biology in how we interpret our experiences, Vaughan shows how optimism is a process, not a state, that is within the grasp of everyone. Informative and uplifting, Half Empty, Half Full offers some unusual but proven tricks and techniques to fool the brain's circuitry into looking on the bright side of life.

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Review:

Crack open Susan Vaughan's Half Empty, Half Full, check out the fat margins and the relatively large type size, and you might think one of two things: You'll either say, "Great! This'll be a quick read!" or you'll say to yourself, "What is this, a self-help book? This can't be science."

Either way, optimist or pessimist, you're going to be at least half-right. But--as Vaughan ultimately makes clear--it's the optimist who's going to win out on this one. A Harvard-trained research analyst and frequent contributor to Harper's Bazaar, the inarguably insightful Vaughan ably straddles the fence between self-help and applied psychology. Her thesis boils down to this: Some of us are lucky enough to be trained as optimists in our formative years; for the rest of us worry-warts, fear not--optimism can be learned. Alternating between dry papers, like "Mood congruent memory biases in anxiety and depression," and pop-psych concepts, like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's early 1990s notion of "flow," Vaughan comforts the afflicted with thoughtful explanations (often drawing from her experience as a therapist) and concrete advice--assuming, of course, you can get past her sometimes cloying references to "Tiggers" and "Eeyores."

Half Empty, Half Full is good news for pessimists, and even good science, a timely summary of the state of neuroscience, as it bolsters many theories of what Vaughan describes as the "positive psychology movement." The antidepressant Paxil, early cortico-limbic development, desperation in milk-treading lab rats, even Cocoa Crispies ("which are apparently like ambrosia to rats")--they're all here and, thanks to Vaughan, good reading and a compelling argument for not simply chalking up pessimism to factors beyond our control. --Paul Hughes

About the Author:

Susan C. Vaughan, M.D., is assistant professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. A graduate of Harvard and Columbia University, she is the recipient of numerous research awards and the author of The Talking Cure and Viagra. She is also a frequent contributor to Harper's Bazaar. Dr. Vaughan lives in New York.

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