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Posted at: Jul 8, 2018, 1:23 AM; last updated: Jul 8, 2018, 1:23 AM (IST)

What makes life possible

Bhanu Pande

Sometimes your interaction with others — whoever he or she may be, whatever be the age — can have a great impact on your thought process and action. Martin Saligman, one of the most influential psychologists of our times, tells a story of his journey in his memoir, The Hope Circuit, based on the idea.

First, it was his interaction with his daughter Nikki that made him rethink about his own behaviour; much later, his interaction with other psychologists during assaying and debating Pavlovian experiments that turned this philosopher to venture into the world of psychology:

“Helplessness in humans is ubiquitous and source of endless suffering. Could we capture it in the laboratory? Could we discover what causes it? Could we discover how to reverse it? Could we discover its brand physiology and reverse it? That’s why I became a psychologist,” he writes.

If you have interest in the history of psychology and you are interested in Martin Saligman’s response to his critics and the criticisms of his positive psychology, this book is the worth picking up. Don’t worry, it is not made of heavy, convoluted scientific theories or serious reading alone, but is an interesting story of how psychology has evolved over the years, all through the eyes of the author, the father of positive psychology.

Saligman has been a strong votary of optimism as against helplessness. He believes the former can improve the quality of life and illustrates how it can be learned and practiced. He arrived at this conclusion after more than 20 years of clinical research and laid the foundation of positive psychology.

In first few chapters on his own life, Saligman builds a context and his entry into the enigmatic world of psychology. That bit is an interesting tale of how his childhood, adolescence and education have shaped his future course of life. Before you realise, Saligman slips into a fantastic description of interesting parleys among different schools of thought in psychology and how they were at loggerheads. The book raises hopes for people with psychological conditions much more than it did in early 1960s. Thanks in large partly to Saligman’s pioneering work on positive psychology. Today, psychology is much more than just addressing people’s troubles and mental illness. It no longer just focuses on what stalls life, but also what makes it worth living. Saligman believes positive psychology has immense implications on the way we manage life.

His treatment in the book — from learned helplessness to learned hope — makes for a fascinating read. You can find Saligman’s many other pathbreaking contributions to the modern psychology in the book. These include his work on learned optimism, positive psychology, resiliency training for the military, the cataloguing and measurement of character strengths, and the various offshoots of positive psychology: positive education, positive health and positive psychotherapy.

It’s a riveting memoir about Saligman’s discovery of ‘learned helplessness’ and ‘positive psychology. Interspersed within the interestingly scripted storytelling, Saligman takes the reader on a journey of self discovery and his intellectual pursuits with passion. The memoir tells a story of some of the pathbreaking ideas and developments that have shaped modern psychology. It clearly brings out the author’s infectious curiosity about exploring human mind and how to make life better for the humanity.

The memoir captures most transformative years on the ideas and thoughts in psychology wherein, Saligman learned to study optimism. The stories behind his radical findings are well told and should go down well with all kind of readers who may be remotely interested in human mind. The Hope Circuit is all about virtues like hope, meaning and positive emotion for our mental health. A story of transformation that swept modern psychology over the years, through the lens of the most decorated psychologist of our time.


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