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"Being optimistic brings about less depression, better physical health, and higher achievement..." Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD

"I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths." Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD

The New "Positive Psychology"

My wife will tell you that Iím an optimist, sometimes to my detriment. For example, I managed to stay upbeat most of the time during the historic bear market in stocks weíve been experiencing Ė which certainly hasnít been good for the family pocketbook. I believe it will work to our benefit during the bull market which is almost sure to follow. Plus, I learned a great deal about portfolio management, which will serve us well in the future. I actually enjoyed the challenge of navigating my way Ė trying to survive, financially and emotionally -- through the gut wrenching downturn, most of the time anyway.

The long term effect on our portfolio remains to be seen, but psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D, author of the bestseller Learned Optimism (see article # 97) and the newly released Authentic Happiness (Free Press, 2002), says people with a positive outlook are generally happier and more productive in good times and bad. They do better in all walks of life: health, relationships and careers.

Rescued by the Barbell

I was a star in law school, ranking first in my class numerous times and graduating second overall, but I was never fully satisfied with the practice of law. I wasnít comfortable with the zero-sum adversarial process, where one sideís win comes out of the otherís hide. Plus, my early years of practice were in a law firm that placed great stress on the ability to bring in new clients. That approach didnít fit my personality. I wasnít cut out to be a rainmaker; it wasnít the best way to use the perseverance and logical thinking that made me a success in law school. I never realized, however, that part of my dissatisfaction may have come from being an optimist.

Professor Seligman, the leading spokesman for the new movement of Positive Psychology, which focuses on mental health rather than mental illness, has found that "pessimists do best at law." He and his colleagues tested law students for optimism and pessimism, and then followed them for three years. In sharp contrast to studies in other fields, they found that the pessimists on average get along better than their optimistic peers. "Pessimism is seen as a plus among lawyers," says Seligman. The ability to conjure up worst case scenarios, "the whole range of [possible] problems and betrayals," permits lawyers to help their clients guard against "far-fetched eventualities."

"Unfortunately," Seligman adds, "a trait that makes you good at your profession does not always make you a happy human being." That was true in my case. Looking for potential potholes is something I can do, but itís not my idea of "the good life." It didnít make me happy.

Winning my class in the Past 40 Mr. America and Mr. U.S.A., combined with the success of my book Ripped which followed, gave me the opportunity to change the direction of my life. It allowed me to gradually move into the win-win bodybuilding and fitness field. I didnít know it at the time, but it put me on the path Dr. Seligman maps out in Authentic Happiness. It allowed me to put less emphasis on correcting my weaknesses and focus on using -- and improving -- my strengths.

Dr. Seligmanís book includes a test to help identify your signature strengths; youíll also find the survey questionnaire on www.authentichappiness.org. Completing the "Signature Strengths Survey" is important, because Seligman has found that using your primary strengths as frequently as possible is the best way to have a happy and productive life. Thatís the main theme of his new book and itís well worth exploring.

Positive Psychology in the Gym

While Authentic Happiness doesn't focus on diet, exercise or sports, it has application to those areas nevertheless. I tell people over and over that enjoyment is the key to success in training. Almost no one will stay on a diet they donít enjoy, not for long anyway. The same goes for exercise. A positive attitude about your training makes all the difference in the world. People who enjoy their training are far more likely to stick with it.

That's why, in Challenge Yourself, I tell people to "find their sport."  I knew early on that I liked lifting weights. I was built for lifting; I wasn't cut out to run marathons. I found my sport and stuck with it. Dr. Seligman, I'm sure, would agree that finding a sport you enjoy is a key to long-term success. That doesn't mean you have to be a champion; it simply means you'll do better in an activity that you find satisfying. Satisfaction, for most people, comes from making progress, being successful in the competition with yourself.

Whatever your sport, Seligmanís book will help you plan your training for success. For example, he explains how to recognize and dispute pessimistic thoughts. Pessimists give up, because they tend to see problems as permanent and insurmountable. Optimists persevere, because they see problems as temporary and correctable. Whatís more, Seligman says optimists believe that good events are pervasive, that they enhance everything they do. Pessimists believe the effects of good events are specific and limited.

I use these concepts in my training. As explained in my books, I plan for and expect success in my workouts. I also believe that success in the gym helps me cope with the world outside. When things go well in the gym, they tend to go better everywhere. The joy I feel after a good workout carries over into the rest of my life. Carol will tell you that Iím almost always in a good mood after a successful workout. Hell, I even feel good most of the time after a workout that doesnít go so well, because Iím already thinking about how I can do better next time. Success breeds success, and I expect to succeed.

Iím pumped about the new science of Positive Psychology. I guess you can tell. Positive thinking, as taught by Professor Seligman, agrees with me. It enhances my life.

Finally, Positive Psychology shifts the focus from pathology, victimology and mental illness to positive emotion, strengths and virtues. As a strong believer in self help and individual determinism, that strikes me as a more promising way to find happiness, fulfillment and the "good life."

If Positive Psychology appeals to you as well, pick up a copy of Authentic Happiness at your local bookstore or order it from Amazon.com.

Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108, Phone:  (505) 266-5858, e-mail: cncbass@aol.com, fax: (505) 266-9123.

Copyright©2002 Clarence and Carol Bass.  All rights reserved.

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