Weblog tour: one book that changed your life

It’s time for this week’s weblog tour question, and it was also my turn to provide the topic.

Topic: Tell us about one book that changed your life.

As usual, when all is said and done (well, when I’m done, that is) give your own answer in the comment box!

For my own answer, I really should say something like “My own book, of course! Go buy a copy and see why.” But even I’m not that crass.

Right now, I’m going to talk about The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and BuildLifelong Resilience by Martin Seligman.

(And here you thought I was going to talk about the book that introduced me to angels! You’ll get that some other time.)

I picked up the book in 1999 when a local bookstore was going out of business. It looked interesting. Kiddo#1 was two years old and already having problems. I’d struggled with depression on and off since I was sixteen, and if possible I wanted to prevent it in my own child. The book’s premise, that you could “inoculate” your child against depression, intrigued me.

I read the whole book, doing the exercises along the way, but it became clear very quickly that Kiddo#1 was way too young for me to implement the program. I set it aside for when he became older, and I continued living my life.

In 2000, my unborn baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, a fatal birth defect. We carried to term. I was fully prepared to have a repeat of the postpartum depression I had after Kiddo#1, but after Emily died…no depression. It was weird, but I attributed it to the fact that depression is feeling sad when there’s no reason to feel sad, and here I had a huge reason to be sad. Also I was being gentler on myself. And finally, 400 people were praying for us. That had to account for something!

The reprieve continued. Saddening things happened, and stressful things, but never with the same effect.

Time passed, and in 2004 I figured Kiddo#1 was old enough to start the exercises with him, so I re-read the book. And when I did, I realized, I had implemented all his tactics in my own thought base. I had changed my own self-talk and the way I framed the adversities that happened to me. Believe it or not, his program designed for children had worked on me!

I can’t give that book the overview it deserves here, but Seligman’s theory is that we listen critically to everyone except ourselves. If we can change our explanatory style to something more positive, we can eliminate depression. Depression stems from helplessness and hopelessness. Depressed people tend to assume the bad things that happen to them happened because THEY were bad, or THEY are inherently flawed. Whereas if you can frame the bad things that happen to you as “I just have to try harder next time” or “That was dumb luck,” you’re a leg up. Plus, depressed people tend to explain away the good things that happen to them as freak accidents, whereas nondepressed individuals say, “That happened because I’m smart!” (or clever or friendly, and so on.)

I had stopped catastrophizing my problems. I’d stopped blaming the bad things in my life on elements about myself that were permanent, unchangeable, and prone to spreading out through every other part of my life. When Emily died, it wasn’t “I’m a crappy mom who doesn’t deserve children,” but rather, “This is the worst thing I’m ever going to endure, but it’s not entirely my fault.”

I really should write to Dr. Seligman and tell him this. I actually met someone who’d studied with him once, and that gave me a vicarious baconized thrill.

It’s a wonderful book, and I urge everyone to check it out.

Other stops on the weblog tour:
http://meganeileen2005.typepad.com/  twinkletoes
http://thatsloanegirl.blogspot.com/   CathyF
http://wryexchange.com/   Wry Exchange
http://www.absentmindedhousewife.com/  beckygoesape
http://verycontrary.wordpress.com/  Contrary
http://amandagorby.blogspot.com/  amanda_tg                 
http://whatsmylife.blogspot.com/ grinningcomb
http://nolechica.livejournal.com  nolechica
http://addierambles.blogspot.com  andra
http://la-eme.livejournal.com   MsMoonbunny
http://mischief0617.wordpress.com/  CrowGirl
http://www.housewife2000.blogspot.com   housewife2k
http://fatgirlartist.blogspot.com/  Amy Rose
http://lulupop.wordpress.com  Lulupop
http://chrisnada.livejournal.com/  Cnada
http://robandkrista.blogspot.com/  CelticGemini
http://anime-coroner.livejournal.com/. AllyKat
http://www.drunkenhousewife.com/ The Drunken Housewife
http://ladyj3000.blogspot.com/   LadyJ3000
http://heartstart.livejournal.com  Heartstar1
http://hijinksshenanigans.blogspot.com/  Hijinks’s Shenanigans
http://deltatangosgbs.blogspot.com/  afbluebelle
http://sarahesperanza.wordpress.com/ SquishyMooMoo
http://www.dutifuldanielle.blogspot.com/ dpbenson
http://sinkingtent.blogspot.com/ ladiedeathe
http://divine-misse.livejournal.com Shotochick (only readable by those that have a livejournal account)
http://mrsbart.blogspot.com/ MrsBart
http://rainhaville.blogspot.com  RainhaDoTexugo



  1. Jenni

    I’d heard somewhere that depression is just repressed anger. I suppose when you take the wind out of the anger’s sails, you can’t really be depressed.

    I’ll be checking this book out (thanks!)

    Oh, and speaking of books, you should get over to shelfari and update your author page. 🙂

  2. ladyknight

    It’s kind of funny; I don’t even remember the name of the book that kind of changed my life. It had to do with Alfred Hitchcock, I remember that. I was about 12 years old, and my parents hadn’t been monitoring what I read for awhile. So when I was at the library, I picked up this book of horror stories. One of them was about Jack the Ripper. He’d somehow survived into the 50’s, and he was taking a plane from London to Chicago, and reliving some of the murders that he’d done during his life. And for the first time, I realized that terror isn’t “somewhere else”; it can be very close by. Really, it’s almost the cause of the end of my innocence about the world. How terrifying is that, that it’s the first thing I think of?

  3. philangelus

    Ladyknight, how terrifying is it that I think I had that book in my hand last week? There’s a used book bin at my grocery store, and I was considering picking up that book for my son because he loves the Alfred Hitchcock & the Three Investigators mysteries.

    My library has it too, I believe.

    That’s a scary realization for a 12 year old, btw.

  4. CricketB

    The most recent book to change my life is Hallowell’s Delivered from Distraction. Rather than help, it’s depressed me. Its goal is to change ADHD from a “medical disorder” to a group of symptoms, some of which are can cause problems in the wrong environment, but many of which can be useful.

    It’s a good book in many ways. It’s filled with ideas and success stories. It shows that you can succeed. It emphasizes that ADHD, and the symptoms, aren’t your fault. It shows that many ADHD traits can be assets, in the right environment.

    But the examples that stick in my mind are the “you may as well stop beating your head against the brick wall” variety, such as, “You’ll never remember birthdays, so marry someone who won’t mind.”

    I compensate for my ADHD quite well — so well that I never suspected it until my son was diagnosed and I started researching. Most books left me feeling positive, with plans and pride that I’d avoided the pitfalls. ADHD was part of me, and I liked me.

    After reading this one, problems I’d accepted, such as not learning names well, aren’t something I laugh about, but part of a list, and small signs of bigger problems. The mistakes leading to the worst two years of my life are on the list. Subtle things I often do wrong are on it. Things I’m good at are on it, and double-edged swords. The traits on the list that make me do things I shouldn’t outnumber the ones I’ve turned to assets.

    He says those traits will always be there, and I’ll always have to be on guard, and no amount of learning and habits will totally eradicate them.

    If I blame my problems on it, then I also have to give it the credit for my successes. If I deny I have it, it’s the same as choosing to make the same mistakes again.

    Definitely a book I need to either forget, or read again and hope for a different take.

  5. CricketB

    Thinking more, “Try harder next time” is a terrible thing to teach a child. It implies that the reason they failed was they didn’t try hard enough. You’re blaming them for failing, and if the child is already trying as hard as he can, it’s no-win.

    I prefer, “Do it differently next time,” and help him discover different ways and resources. Or “Expect that to happen next time,” so the child will be ready to give it up to God when it happens, or maybe not do what caused it.

    “Try harder next time” is false empowerment. It tells the child that if they were a good, hard-working person, they would control it. If it still goes wrong, they are a bad, weak-willed, lazy person. Helping them identify and focus on what they really have the power to change, and letting go of the rest, is much better.

  6. philangelus

    Cricket, the idea behind “try harder” isn’t false empowerment. I summarized too much in an attempt to condense a 500 page book into a 500 word weblog post.

    But let’s say you fail a spelling test. A pessimistic kid will explain his failure to himself as “I’m stupid and no good at spelling.” As a result of his explanation, he will probably be dis-empowered when he comes to his next spelling test, telling himself in advance, “It’s no use,” and then when he fails, he’ll tell himself, “Well, that proves it. I suck.”

    An optimistic kid who fails a spelling test will explain his failure to himself as, “Well, these were really hard words, and I didn’t give them the attention I should have. I went out and played baseball after dinner when I could have reviewed my words one more time. Next week, I’ll have to try again and this time make sure I do my homework first rather than just assuming I’ll ace the test.” This explanation empowers him to try harder the next time by correcting the mistakes he made previously.

    I found his “change your explanatory style” directives very helpful at turning a situation around. ie, I post on the BotP list and no one replies, but instead of thinking, “the folks on that list think I’m an embarrassment and hate me,” (which leads to depression and not posting more), I could instead think, “You know, everyone’s been real busy lately, and usually I get a good response. I’ll wait a couple of days and try again with something else.”

    It’s basically what you said, not the way I badly summarized it. I’ll have to do better next time. 😉

  7. philangelus

    Cricket, you wrote:
    “If I blame my problems on it, then I also have to give it the credit for my successes. If I deny I have it, it’s the same as choosing to make the same mistakes again.”

    I don’t think that’s the case. People are ALL born with inborn talents and inborn weaknesses. ADHD may well be a bundle of weaknesses and talents, but as with most things in life, it is what you make of it.

    There are people who are born with perfect pitch and the ability to remember music, or compose music, and the physical agility to play well. But that means *nothing* if they don’t then work at it, practice it, and keep those talents moving along. If Mozart were to comment on my weblog, “Well, I never really accomplished anything. I was born talented, and that’s why I succeeded,” we’d all laugh. He did work at it (although if you read his biographies, he goofed off a lot too!) and sacrificed for it and made the most of the opportunities he had.

    Talents aren’t a free ticket. They’re just the hand you’re dealt.

  8. CricketB

    I hear you on the summary thing — so many books I think wonderful are summarized by the media into something that’s exactly opposite what the author intended.

    I agree, specific things to do when trying harder empower the person, so long as people accept that, sometimes, even that won’t lead to success in that subject. Often, people don’t try harder, because they don’t want the self-talk to become, “Even with the right tools, I fail, because I’m a failure.” Kids, especially smart ones, need to experience that it’s okay to fail without having an excuse.

    As for the ADHD, I agree with you — you are what you make of the talents and weaknesses you’re born with. The book went too far. Hyperfocus and distractability affect what you do with those talents, so it’s no longer your choice and drive, but ADHD making you succeed or fail. It puts ADHD into everything. “I need a calendar because I forget birthdays,” becomes “I need a calendar because I have ADHD.” “He’s a great husband because he knows I love him even if I forget his birthday,” becomes “He’s a great husband because he understands ADHD.” It makes it hard for a kid to just be himself, independent of the ADHD.

    So, even though my first reaction to the book was very positive, my second is to hesitate before recommending it. I’m curious how I’d interpret it a year from now.

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