978-0-15-100401-0 / 9780151004010

Half Empty, Half Full: The Psychological Roots of Optimism


Publisher:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt



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About the book:

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

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