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The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist's Journey from Helplessness to Optimism

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One of the most influential living psychologists looks at the history of his life and discipline, and paints a much brighter future for everyone.

When Martin E. P. Seligman first encountered psychology in the 1960s, the field was devoted to eliminating it was the science of how past trauma creates present symptoms. Today, thanks in large part to Seligman's Positive Psychology movement, it is ever more focused not on what cripples life, but on what makes life worth living -- with profound consequences for our mental health.

In this wise and eloquent memoir, spanning the most transformative years in the history of modern psychology, Seligman recounts how he learned to study optimism -- including a life-changing conversation with his five-year-old daughter. He tells the human stories behind some of his major findings, like CAVE, an analytical tool that predicts election outcomes (with shocking accuracy) based on the language used in campaign speeches, the international spread of Positive Education, the launch of the US Army's huge resilience program, and the canonical studies that birthed the theory of learned helplessness -- which he now reveals was incorrect. And he writes at length for the first time about his own battles with depression at a young age.

In The Hope Circuit , Seligman makes a compelling and deeply personal case for the importance of virtues like hope, gratitude, and wisdom for our mental health. You will walk away from this book not just educated but deeply enriched.

448 pages, Hardcover

Published April 3, 2018

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About the author

Martin E.P. Seligman

71 books998 followers
Seligman is the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Psychology. He was previously the Director of the Clinical Training Program in the department. Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association by the widest margin in its history and served in that capacity during the 1998 term.[4] He is the founding editor-in-chief of Prevention and Treatment Magazine (the APA electronic journal), and is on the board of advisers of Parents.

Seligman has written about positive psychology topics such as The Optimistic Child, Child's Play, Learned Optimism, Authentic Happiness," and in 2011, "Flourish."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews
Profile Image for Marjorie Elwood.
1,110 reviews23 followers
May 19, 2018
I'm torn between appreciation - the information that he is researching is beneficial, it's interesting to get a glimpse into the politics of academia, and I learned several new words - and annoyance at how pompous Seligman is. Why does he feel the need to tell us his IQ and that he finished his Ph.D very quickly? Does he doubt his intelligence and is compensating for that? He makes sure to let us know that no self-respecting academic would want to be associated with the self-help genre, making it seem as though he's 'slumming' by doing so (God knows what we're doing, then, since we're reading this. Perish the thought!). And then there is the chapter on the use of his research on learned helplessness for the purposes of torture, which starts out with: "This will be the only chapter that will feel defensive to my readers." Hardly.
Profile Image for Marian.
108 reviews5 followers
March 21, 2021
Turns out you can pioneer positive psychology and contribute significantly to the field and still be incredibly narcissistic. He’s also sexist...appalling how he spoke about women in this book whether they were his students, colleagues, or wives. He left his first wife with two young children for another woman—it may have been a student? Can’t keep it straight. And the racism! Honestly, he has no business writing a book so long about himself for so many reasons. I’m trying very hard to separate him from his work. I’m so disappointed and let down by someone I previously respected so much.

As anyone in mental health knows, underneath narcissism are feelings of inadequacy and pain. He says throughout the book that he has always struggled with depression, not feeling grateful, etc. Marty: we can tell.
Profile Image for Christie.
432 reviews4 followers
June 24, 2018
I admire the author for his contributions to psychology, and there were some interesting chapters about these. But do we really need to keep hearing over and over again how smart and accomplished he is? Maybe I was extra sensitive while reading this, but I felt like I was some sort of plebeian the author was preaching down to. I'm not a psychologist so maybe I would feel rightly in awe of the author's accomplishments (and IQ) if I knew more about him and academia in psychology. The book also meanders all over the place and lost me somewhere along the way. Just not quite the thing I was looking or hoping for.
Profile Image for Pam.
78 reviews1 follower
June 20, 2019
I found this book interesting and helpful. I am a certified wellness coach. The coaching industry is based on positive psychology. I work with a lot of physicians and I also educate them in how to better coach their patients with chronic disease (namely diabetes). When I speak of the history of coaching in an education session, Seligman and his work are an important part of that. Many of the studies and stories in this book were interesting and will be helpful for me to refer to as I continue to encourage physicians to consider coaching and its origins.

As for the readers who felt this was narcissistic. I was not bothered by Seligman sharing his stories or his experience.. the title after all is "A Psychologist's Journey..." Read with an open heart. Take what you need. It is long, but there is still much to learn.
Profile Image for Arnie.
269 reviews2 followers
March 24, 2019
Basically an overview of how the author's work has helped to found and lead the field of Positive Psychology. He writes about how his thinking on the subject has evolved over the years. I far prefer his popular books on Positive Psychology and the writings of Tal Ben Shachar, Sonja Lyubomirsky & Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Profile Image for Jonathan Karmel.
363 reviews37 followers
February 22, 2019
Martin Seligman’s career began by his studying helplessness and moved gradually to his studying positive characteristics such as optimism. Seligman himself did not evolve from feeling helpless to feeling optimistic. In fact, this autobiography strangely does not draw many connections between Seligman’s work and life.

Seligman is a well-known psychology professor and author who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. One of the ways Seligman made a name for himself was by developing the theory of “learned helplessness.” This is the idea that when animals (including people) come to believe that there is nothing they can do to overcome a bad situation in life, they give up; and acting helpless resembles depression in many ways. Importantly, people often continue to act helpless (depressed) even if, later on, they could overcome their bad situation.

Like most psychologists in the 1960s, Seligman adopted the traditional medical point of view regarding mental health, that mental health is nothing more than the absence of mental illness. If you are not diagnosed as schizophrenic, depressed, anxious, or suffering from any of the other 300+ disorders in the DSM, you are by default “healthy.” Over time, Seligman, along with many others, developed the field of “positive psychology,” which is based on the idea that mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness. Rather than just treating mental illness, positive psychology focuses on what is best in life: positive emotion, meaning, human progress, virtue, and flourishing.

One measure of mental health is the presence of (1) positive emotion, (2) engagement, (3) good relations, (4) meaning, and (5) accomplishment (PERMA). Seligman also developed a list of 24 “strengths” – character traits or virtues – that a person can possess. All of these strengths are worthwhile and can help a person succeed in life, and most people have some of the strengths more than others.

If you go to Seligman’s website “authentichappiness.org,” you can take self-assessment tests, including PERMA tests that measure how much you are “flourishing,” and a test called the “VIA Survey of Character Strengths” to rank your 24 character strengths. Seligman believes that psychology research can advance using Big Data techniques, such as his own website which collects data.

My ranking of the 24 character strengths, according to this self-assessment, were:

1. love of learning
2. forgiveness and mercy
3. judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
4. self-control and self-regulation
5. curiosity and interest in the world
6. gratitude
7. fairness, equity, and justice
8. perspective wisdom
9. zest, enthusiasm, and energy
10. hope, optimism, and future-mindedness
11. industry, diligence, and perseverance
12. caution, prudence, and discretion
13. honesty, authenticity, and genuineness
14. humor and playfulness
15. modesty and humility
16. citizenship, teamwork, and loyalty
17. social intelligence
18. spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith
19. kindness and generosity
20. capacity to love and be loved
21. leadership
22. appreciation of beauty and excellence
23. creativity, ingenuity, and originality
24. bravery and valor

This book contains some discussion of how Seligman developed this list of character strengths. It was interesting to learn what qualities did NOT make the list: tolerance, chastity, physical fitness. Seligman does talk about meeting Raymond D. Fowler, who promotes the idea of exercise as a way to improve mental health. Wouldn’t the desire to be healthy and fit – temperance perhaps – be a character strength?

Traditional psychology is based on understanding a person’s past and current situation: their history, genetics, childhood, present life-situation, drives and motives. But Seligman has come to believe that mental health comes from the feeling of agency: the belief that a person can control their future. Thus, Seligman believes that psychology should focus more on prospection. People need to form a positive image of a possible future. In psychology, discovering what a person expects, intends, and desires in the future is usually a better starting-off point than asking about the past. One of the brain “circuits” this book discusses is the brain’s “default network,” which is active when a person is not focusing on a task. The same regions of the brain are stimulated when we are daydreaming, or thinking about the past, the future, or the minds of others.

Seligman writes that he came to believe that this “circuit” does simulations that help explain the nature of consciousness. His theory is that consciousness is the seat of agency. Agency consists in running simulations of possible futures and deciding among them. Agency is prospecting the future, and expectation, choice, decision, preference, desire, and free will are all processes of prospection. Maybe all this happens in the default network.

I think that other neuroscientists and philosophers might not agree with this theory. Brains switch back and forth from the default mode network (DMN) to the task-positive network (TPN). People whose brains are in DMN too much of the time tend to ruminate and suffer from anxiety and depression. Meditation techniques have been shown to “turn off” the DMN, allowing people to focus on the present moment. Some people believe that meditation makes people happier by getting them to stop worrying about the future and to stop ruminating about their failure to accomplish what they wish to accomplish. Also, this book oddly makes no mention of Daniel Dennett, whose theory of consciousness is almost the opposite of Seligman’s. Dennett, and others such as Sam Harris, believe that neuroscience proves that free will and agency are illusions.

The end of the book discusses research of Steven Maier, a neuroscientist who developed the theory that people do not actually learn helplessness. Rather, helplessness is an animal’s natural response to a bad situation such as physical pain. It is the animals that are able to overcome the bad situation who learn something: control. Specifically, neuroscience experiments show that when animals learn how to control their environment to escape a bad life situation, the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) sends 5-HT (serotonin) to the dorsal periaqueductal gray (dPAG) instead of the sending it to the amygdala. Stimulation of the dPAG=control (good); sending serotonin to the amygdala=helplessness (bad). This is the “hope circuit” of the brain. (or something like that)

Seligman writes that during his lifetime, psychology abandoned behaviorism/determinism and took cognition/conscious decision-making seriously. Now, the traditional psychotherapist who starts therapy by asking a patient to “tell me about your childhood” is less common; cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is much more common. Psychology has turned its attention from misery toward happiness. Although the psychology section of the book store still has information about treatments for mental illnesses, there are a lot more books without any discussion of mental disorders about how people can improve their mental health with positive psychology. Psychology began taking evolution and neuroscience seriously. The book Thinking, Fast and Slow summarizes current psychological theories based on evolution and neuroscience, not based on neuroses acquired in childhood. And finally, according to Seligman, psychology moved from an obsession with the past to researching how the brain thinks about the future.

Seligman believes that the trajectory of his own career paralleled this change in psychology. As a former president of the American Psychological Association (APA) and current author and academic, Seligman seems to have had a big impact on the direction of psychology (in the United States at least).

It was less clear whether Seligman believes that his own personal life was influenced by his own psychological theories. Seligman’s father was a civil servant in Albany, New York, who sent his “poor Jewish boy” to a boys, military-style, prep school with rich goyim. Seligman writes that he had an IQ of 185. He graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, taught at Cornell University, and he eventually became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He married and had two children, and then divorced and remarried and had five more children with his current wife. I didn’t get the sense from this autobiography that Seligman was happy and successful because he had adopted the principles of positive psychology. Rather, I got the sense that he achieved success through more conventional means. He was unhappy with his first marriage, so he left his first wife for another woman with whom he has had a happier marriage. He has doggedly pursued professional success, and his intelligence and hard work has brought him international preeminence in his field. He has taken advantages of opportunities whenever and wherever they were presented to him, including from religious and political conservatives, the CIA, and the military. Some people might argue that his high PERMA score is the result of being an old, rich, white, conservative man with a high IQ who achieved high status by adopting a somewhat apolitical and amoral attitude, not because of “positive psychology.” I wouldn’t go that far myself, but it seems like he has been motivated in his life not just by the desire to reduce human suffering, but also by common ambition.

I thought some of the stuff about academic politics was interesting. I had learned about the “sauce béarnaise” effect in Psych 101 at Cornell from Professor Jim Maas (referenced briefly in this book) in 1985; it was fun to hear about the origin of this concept. It was certainly a loss for Cornell that Seligman left after the 1969 takeover of Willard Straight Hall. It never occurred to me that there was and probably still is a schism between academic psychologists who research, publish and teach at universities and clinical psychologists who actually do the work of trying to help human patients. I think it’s to Seligman’s credit that he has tried to bridge that gap.

Overall, I enjoyed the book.
Profile Image for Robert Bogue.
Author 17 books10 followers
November 28, 2018
Martin Seligman is the father of positive psychology. In The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism, he chronicles his life and the life of positive psychology. While I’m not generally prone to reading biographies or autobiographies, The Hope Circuit isn’t exactly that. Instead, it’s a view into the world that led to one of the most important course corrections in psychology.

Click here to read the full review
Profile Image for Ana.
4 reviews1 follower
July 7, 2021
Not what I expected but I got some value out of this book. A summary:

What: From my perspective, it’s essentially an autobiography about Seligman’s life, the research he did, who he met/worked with, and how psychology changed throughout his life.

Recommend for: people who are interested in either Seligmans life, a partial history of psychology in America in the past 50 yrs, and/or a summary of his research and process. Also, for people who want to pursue a career in psychology academia.

If you are hoping to learn about positive psychology, I recommend his Ted talks and other books where he focuses on the topic rather than his life.
61 reviews3 followers
November 23, 2018
As a former academic psychologist turned positive psychology coach, I found Seligman's highly readable memoir riveting. Seligman weaves two strands together--his own personal/professional trajectory and that of late 20th century psychology. If you ever wondered why your introductory psych class did NOT meet your expectations of helping you figure out how to lead your best life, Seligman will show you how academics went astray, studying irrelevant but publishable phenomena, and how clinicians got overfocused on what goes wrong.

I found it shocking that when Seligman founded positive psychology, with the support of various colleagues, he was forced to count on funding from philanthropies that shared his view that it is time for psychology to study how to foster flourishing because traditional sources were not interested in the brighter side of life. He generously acknowledges the contributions of many colleagues to his development and to positive psychology and shows surprising humility in exposing some of his own errors or shortcomings along the way. Anyone who has followed the emergence of positive psychology or who finds the history of psychology (or ideas) a worthy subject will find find Seligman's book a valuable read.
6 reviews1 follower
April 26, 2020
Un libro infaltable si quieres conocer la historia de la Psicología Positiva. Si bien es un autobiografía, conocer el andar de M. Seligman desde el estudio en laboratorio, que devino en la formulación de la teoría de la Indefención Aprendida hasta la formulación del Circuito de la Esperanza, donde se formula que lo aprendido es el control y que la respuesta de indefensión, en todo caso, viene de serie, nos muestra como son los entrecijos del conocimenot cientifco, cambiante, desafiante y reformulable. Todo esto a partir de las nuevas investigaciones basadas en la neurociencia. También conoceremos como es la vida del investigador, que no se aleja de su cotidianidad, como esta influye tanto en la generación de ideas como en la conclusión de teorías. Sabremos algunas anécdotas que propiciaron la formulación de los Estudios sobre las Virtudes y fortalezas de Carácter y la importancia de Peterson en ello. En suma, un libro que merece la pena leerse mas de una vez.
Profile Image for Jeff McMullen.
71 reviews4 followers
December 16, 2018
Sadly egotistical for someone who studies character. I’ve long enjoyed Seligman’s work, but I lost a lot of respect for him in reading this book.
Profile Image for Carlota&Werther.
79 reviews
February 6, 2019
Libro bien escrito, entretenido y lleno de información interesante. Relata su vida junto al devenir de la psicología americana de los últimos 50 años. Disfruté mucho leyéndolo .
Profile Image for Brian Goosen.
57 reviews14 followers
October 7, 2019
When I purchased this book I had no idea it was the autobiography of Martin Seligman. A bit disappointed at first, I began reading and immediately fell into a trance. This is a great recount on the trajectory of Seligman's own life, and how this trajectory related to the growth or "birth" of positive psychology.

It was a pleasure to learn about the origin of psychology, from the learning theory, to behaviorism, to the psychologists finally acknowledging that cognition plays the leading role in the decisions we make and why.

With this initial development, psychology took its focus from what "makes someone miserable" and shaped this approach into what makes & maintains someone who is happy? He dives deeply into the recognition of learned helplessness, when he learned this theory with colleague Steve Maier in 1964, who later would recount on the finding and extend what the learned helplessness phenomona actually entails in 2016 (basis of the book).

Seligman further discusses the timeline behind when psychology took evolution and the brain seriously.

Lastly, Seligman wraps up the novel from directing psychology away from focusing on the past only to how the brain thinks about the future, and that this is actually the driving force behind our decisions. Our "hope" towards a better future builds our decision making subconsciously to get us to the level of life we hope to achieve. This is where the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) comes into play, and the finding of this phenomena discounting the original learned helplessness theory by showing the "rats" in the experiment or humans in real life actually "learn" our level of control in the specific situation vs. helplessness.

The rats were not learning helplessness, only that that being helpless was a natural, unlearned, default response to prolonged shock they got. The level of helplessness shown directly related to how often they were exposed to similar bad events alike in their past. This built or took away from the rats resiliency to become helpless or remain solid in certain situations, where hope outvalued helplessness.

The rats that were given inescapable shock had the DRN activated in their brain, while the control group & rats that could eventually escape did not have their DRN activated. This told Seligman and Maier that what the hope circuit entails is the suppression of the DRN (producses passivity & panic).

This finding will be the single most important discovery in treating depreession in the years to come, just you wait!
Profile Image for Rebecca Lee.
10 reviews
January 8, 2022
I loved the story of how the author evolved in his career from 'learned helplessness' to 'positive psychology'. Being mindful of our positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments ('PERMA), and making effort on all these elements to improve ourselves is a wonderful framework to live life by. The author's work was the foundation to ideas of positive thinking in society and reading his book was useful in structuring my thoughts more. The author also makes it clear that 'positive psychology' is not a replacement for trauma work, but is complementary to it. I view it as the second stage of healing, after identifying and resolving trauma. But in reading this, I do wonder how much a culture of toxic positivity could potentially be traced back to this.

I especially enjoy one of the last chapters, where the author explained what exactly the 'hope circuit' is - the medial pre-frontal cortex and dorsal raphe nucleus circuit (MPFC-DRN circuit), and explained that his original theories of learned helpless were wrong. Instead, helplessness is a default and what humans learn is actually control and mastery over events. To me, this is a powerful idea and the field of 'positive psychology' probably resonates most with me.

While this book is a memoir and we are hearing a lot about the author's life, he did come off a bit egotistical and self-interested, which made the reading mildly unpleasant. The writing style I found a little long winded, perhaps due to the author's multiple long insertions about his achievements etc, but the book improved a lot more in the second half.

Overall, the book was highly insightful and this man's work is a powerful tool in life. Studies showing how simple exercises such as writing down three things you are grateful for in a day can impact one's well-being shows that we do have control over how our mind works, if we can get to that stage of acknowledging it. Probably one of the most interesting things I found in this book, was a study on how one's genomic profile influences whether an individual is more predisposed to eudamonia than hedonia (preference for meaning over indulgent pleasure). The findings link inflammatory gene expression to to 'elevated hedonic well-being'. I linked the full study here, simply because I found it so interesting. https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/110...
Profile Image for Sarah Mayor Cox.
118 reviews36 followers
May 30, 2018
(Penguin Life edition)

Wow! Just Wow! What an amazing book! I had heard of Martin Seligman, the famous psychologist who helped turn around the practice of psychology through his Positive Psychology movement, and had even meant to do some reading up on Positive Psychology (which focuses on what makes life worth living, not simply on what past traumas and current conditions bring us unstuck). This is a very readable memoir of sorts: part autobiography, part conversational anecdotes about people in his life, part inspirational, part educational and part photo album. I am sure Seligman has his strong critics, and I imagine he has rubbed many people up the wrong way for all the right and, wrong sort of reasons.

I am not a psychologist, and have not studied psychology past a basic level of educational psychology (i.e. how to help bring out the best in my students to ensure their time with me is as productive, stimulating and engaging as possible) so I am not qualified to give a professional opinion on the psychology in this book. However, I do think this book makes an important contribution to the field of popular psychology as it is hard not to want to talk about the book with others after you have read it. It’s the sort of book that you can dip in and out of, rather than reading it from cover to cover because Seligman has a lightness of style in the way he recounts what set him on his path, the lessons he’s learned about himself and others, and what he believes Positive Psychology can offer others.

This would be a great book group title. And I imagine lots of budding psychologists would enjoy reading this too. With depression and anxiety being such a common occurrence in everyday life it is no wonder Psychology is one of the most popular sciences studied at VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) level today.
Profile Image for Sol Smith.
Author 22 books36 followers
April 11, 2022

I am studying a lot about psychology, contentment, and happiness while working on my masters. This book came along at the right time for me; it was available at my library so I started reading it and the next day I was assigned to write about a psychologist and their theory of personality. I was given a handful of people from whom to choose, and Seligman was one of them.

I’ve been reading a lot of Seligman lately; not only his books but his research studies, as well. His work and the work of the industry of positive psychology is excellent.

That said, this book was a bit of a turnoff. Oh, it’s wildly helpful in writing my paper, and it’s full of fascinating tidbits and research, but also, it’s a memoir and the author’s ego is center stage. Harsh criticism, especially coming from me, but I’m telling you he measures his greatness from childhood through school, marriage, divorce, house-buying, and remarriage as something phenomenal. I hope he doesn’t read this, because he’s earned his accolades; however, the tone of his talking about his experiences is “bragging” rather than “exciting.”

Sure, I’m some jealous psychology student and some jealous writer, so that’s two points against me. And while this criticism doesn’t detract from the value of this book, it points out an eye-rolling quality.
Profile Image for Greg Newkirk.
4 reviews
August 27, 2022

As an undergraduate in psychology, I became acquainted with the work of Martin Seligman in 1975 with the publication of his first book "Learned Helplessness." Switching from psychology to geography, I was surprised many years later to see that Marty had written a book called "Learned Optimism." I found this book very insightful and a 180 degree change from his original direction.

"The Hope Circuit" is a very different kind of book. It is a fusion of personal and professional history. I enjoyed reading about Marty's journey through the academic world and could see in great detail that I made a very wise choice in going another direction. Academia is a hard scrabble existence even for the gifted. I picked up a 9-year side gig as an adjunct, so I know a little about the inner workings of university life after leaving graduate school 40 years ago. Anyway, letting Marty take me through his career journey was enlightening and fulfilling. But of greater enjoyment and superior learning was following him through his personal, intellectual and spiritual journey from pessimist to optimist.

Some readers may think that Marty is an egoist. No so. He is open and authentic. He just happens to have a big brain and was given some lucky breaks. But each of us has talents and are given opportunities. Those who have not yet or are not in the process of converting from a pessimist to an optimist may struggle with this book. But if the reader is open and authentic, then he or she will find this book truly rewarding. The reader may also have to be a little forgiving toward all of what Marty reveals about himself.

After reading this book I am reminded of the quote from Mark Twain, "there is no cure for a young pessimist; except maybe an old optimist." Marty has become an optimist through a slow agonizing process, with a lot of help along the way. And maybe that is how it is for many of us that got a rough start in life. And maybe there are a lot of injured people who still wallow in pessimism and don't know how to step into the light of optimism. I believe that "The Hope Circuit" can help. It is heavy on science. Everything must be backed up with data. But, it is the openness and authenticity of the author that really makes the difference. Marty may be very smart and successful, but he also had some hard knocks and lengthy struggles. And, it appears that he has overcome them and found a better way to live.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to anyone.
13 reviews1 follower
August 7, 2022
The content of this book is exactly what the title says, “a psychologist’s journey” -of his career. The first half of the book was painfully not gripping but if you survived, then it flows beautifully. It is incredibly factual with a lot of names which for a person who is not in touch with his world, it feels quite fad.
However, it is a historical book, a history of how psychology has evolved in the US and specifically his contribution.

He has maintained a sense of duty throughout his career and was determined to bring about a meaningful contribution to the world. And he did. It seems that as humans we are starting to remove the thick layers of past off so we could start living happier focusing our mind into the future.

Through his own life, Martin Seligman pictures the upheaval life of scientists and that you are not automatically rewarded for being smart and dedicated, but you would need to pave your way inch by inch in order to be able to carve out time and look for funding so that you would be able to put your ideas into practice, generate new ideas, etc.

Last but not least, it’s so important to bear in mind that scientists are humans with needs, wants and imperfections.
Profile Image for James.
489 reviews9 followers
May 11, 2018
There is much to like about the first half: the internecine conflicts in the psychology community were news to me and the debates between behaviorists and cognitive scientists are well-detailed, as are earlier ones about whether or not psychology belongs properly in the lecture room, the lab, or the living room. The problem with the book is that Seligman constantly speaks about "positive psychology" and "optimism" without ever getting into the details of what these ideas entail, other than the vague assumption that mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness. By the time I reached the last hundred pages, I was ready for the book to end. (There are also two chapters in which Seligman defends himself again the charges that he worked in some secret psy-ops branch of the CIA or a secret branch of the Army. He spends far too much time defending himself there, but I guess he had a score to settle.) At bottom, this is a book about an idea that never really gets into the idea itself; it's like a book about Einstein's theory of relativity that talks about the formulation of the equation and its context but never explains why E=mc2.
Profile Image for Georgia.
408 reviews1 follower
August 5, 2018
From its inception psychology has faced the morphing of ideas from the seat of the unconscious to operant conditioning and most recently to cognitive behavioral. Seligman acknowledges this transformation within the context of his own work recognizing the progression of learned helplessness to the seminal seeds of positive psychology. What have we learned through this process? Seligman shoots holes in Freudian perspective that places all of its emphasis on the past but he also takes a crack at Frankl and his existential focus on the present moment. FMRI research suggests that from an evolutionary perspective that the brain is actually hard wired for the future. Seligman's teaching about learned helplessness was not what it appeared at first. He was not witnessing helplessness but instead the phenomenon of animals to look beyond their present condition in the hope that things will get better, without this circuit of hope man may never have allowed himself the opportunity to grow and change and create the world.
Profile Image for Maureen.
356 reviews2 followers
March 24, 2020
positive psychology - hope that is so needed at this time in this culture of covid-19.
Seligman regards PERMA as the moral compass to well-being.
PERMA = Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships,Meaning, Accomplishment).
Interesting statement that Seligman declared: A new Christianity without the crucifix – a Christianity of love, and gratitude and kindness. As medical, agricultural, and social progress and a tolerant diversity relieve misery in the world, a positive Christianity, and a positive Judaism, and a positive Islam will thrive. (p 12 ch. 29 Turning the world)

Positive Psychology saw 4 changes led by Seligman:
abandon behaviourism and take cognition seriously
from attention to misery toward happiness
evolution from the brain
moved from obsession with the past to researching how the brain thinks
about the future.

Love his motto: Be optimistic and filled with hope about the future.

176 reviews
June 23, 2018
Martin Seligman's autobiography is easy to read as his many psychology books, aimed at the lay-reader, have been over the decades. This book has many facets the best of which are his take on the evolution of American academic and clinical psychology since the 1950s and his account of the move from an emphasis on the negative in psychology to a view encompassing positivity as well. He was and remains central to the positive psychology movement. His version of its development, and the development of the aspects of psychology he has been involved with, is a great way to experience the 'flow' he espouses. Seligman's legacy is the overall subject of this book. That legacy is huge and positive in terms of understanding how to optimise a population's health. Applying his findings more widely would enhance his legacy even more. Perhaps those who read this book will be prompted to do so.
15 reviews
November 22, 2020
This book blew my mind.

On one hand this guy is so smart. And positive psychology and focussing on strengths has profoundly affected my life, so I am deeply grateful for his work. On the other hand, what a friggin' jerk!

Yes he left his first family once his star started rising. (The woman he left them for soon left him.. for the marshmallow experiment guy. Talk about the irony of temptation research...) And yes, he married one of his grad students. Of course he did.

The arrogance is so pervasive, it chokes the prose.

I thought the section "exonerating" him from aiding and abetting the CIA in developing "enhanced interrogation" very incomplete.

So, anyway, I found it riveting, disturbing, annoying, and very fascinating. Thanks Marty!
Profile Image for Tim Hughes.
Author 3 books61 followers
February 1, 2019
The hope circuit is Martin "Marty" Seligman's autobiography. This is not a book I would normally read but it cropped up on a few reading lists on LinkedIn so I gave it a try. If you didn't know (I didn't), Marty is a professor of Psychology and did a lot of work in the past on "helplessness". He went onto create "positive psychology" that I guess is the antidote to helplessness. He writes in an interesting why, lived an interesting life, you also learn a little bit about psychology, which is kind of useful. I certainly enjoyed the book, but at nearly 400 pages it is a bit of an investment.
Profile Image for James.
71 reviews9 followers
January 7, 2021
The format of this book was interesting as it was a combination of a memoir and a review of the lifetime scientific work of a notable figure in the fields of experimental, clinical, and positive psychology. I am a positive psychology enthusiast, and this is the second book I have read by this author. I must admit that I like the work of the author much more than the author himself. While I very much enjoyed the work and the history of the work, I was somewhat disappointed in the biographical elements generally, and rather disappointed in some of the specifics. This is certainly a case of genius with a good helping of ego and narcissism thrown in.
Profile Image for Marie.
81 reviews14 followers
March 1, 2020
This is a good one. Easy to read and in memoir style, seligman, the founder of the positive psychology movement, writes its, and his, history. Towards the end of the book, there’s a lot of details about his work with the US govt, which he’s had a lot of criticism over.

On a personal level, I found his defensiveness regarding his govt work, along with his multiple marriages, annoying. He’s not perfect and doesn’t try to be a sympathetic narrator. But this is primarily a book about his personal history of positive psychology, and it hits the mark.
268 reviews1 follower
April 13, 2020
If you are a fan of Seligman and Positive Psychology, you will thoroughly enjoy this book, a great story of the evolution of positive psychology from the perspective of its principle proponent. It is also a delicious window into the emergence of some of the great psychologists who have emerged from, and orbited in Seligman's world, people like Sonja Lyuvomirski, Angela Duckworth, Chris Peterson and Barbara Fredrickson, to name just a few. The book made me want to re-read Seligman's Learned Optimism and, to be fair, Duckworth's Grit.
February 12, 2022
thank you Marty

Exquisite! Good info about the life and professional accomplishments of Marty Seligman and the history of psychology through his own lens. Thank you Marty for your many contributions to positive psychology, positive education, positive psychotherapy, and the many other disciplines that have started to focus on the positive elements of their field of inquiry. And thank you for highlighting the importance of related Movements such as quality-of-life studies, health-related quality of life, humanistic psychology, well-being research, among others.
Profile Image for Diane Dreher.
Author 19 books44 followers
May 26, 2018
One of the best books I’ve read in ages, Martin Seligman’s memoir, The Hope Circuit, is a heart-warming journey through the life and mind of one of today’s leading scientists. Combining candid personal narrative, conversations with contemporary scientists, discussions of major research discoveries, and a vision of human virtues, strengths, and possibilities, the book not only documents one remarkable life, but offers insight, inspiration, and the light of greater hope for humankind.
Profile Image for Justin.
10 reviews
September 24, 2018
Fascinating as a chronological look at psychology through the experiences of one the most prominent psychologists in the country. It's half memoir, and those parts are sometimes interesting and sometimes not, and he seems largely unapologetic for ditching his family in favor of work (or other women). That aside, a must read for anyone interested in positive psychology or even professional coaching.
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