Monday, February 14, 2022


The authors skillfully mix true stories of supersurvivors with their professional insights and with the results of studies they cite, as these “two psychologists explore the science of remarkable accomplishment in the wake of trauma.”

A cancer survivor gives up her profession to pursue her dream of becoming a professional violinist and succeeds astoundingly, though postponing having a risk-reducing operation and waiting for the opportunity to marry and have children she has long wanted.

A nearly blind man rows across the Atlantic, risking death, conquering his fears.

An African refugee learns to forgive those who tortured and humiliated her and finds new hope in reuniting with her family.

The authors argue that “positive thinking” is not the key to supersurvivorhood, as some of these achievers had positive views of the world, and some were less favorably disposed. Rather, what seemed key was to have a rationally grounded belief in the likelihood of their personal triumph.

Of the many interesting and useful studies the authors cite, I was particularly struck by the one comparing the outcomes of job searches by a set of college students who were Optimizers versus the outcomes for a similar set who were Satisficers, who had not sought the “best” but rather the “good enough.” The Optimizers ended up with significantly higher salaries, but were less pleased with their outcomes than were the Satisficers.

This reader came away with admiration of those profiled and appreciation of the significance of belief in ourselves, tempered with the rational appraisal of the challenges we face.

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