"Feeling Good" by David D Burns

Review by Borodutch

This 2008 book was at the beginning of the movement of cognitive therapy. Overall, the idea is quite simple: we feel good or bad not because of the things that are happening but due to how we think of the things that are happening. Your cognition (your thoughts) dictates how you feel about events. This fact opens up a new area of research on how we unnecessarily darken the skies and how to reverse it.

The author details how negative thoughts appear: they are mostly automatic, and we can't do much to prevent them. However, if we understand where they are coming from and what cognitive biases are in the works, we can "talk" ourselves out of feeling bad. After all, it isn't the feelings directly connected to events, but there is that middleman — the cognition, which our conscious thought can influence.

David explains a set of cognitive biases and how to work with them. Then, he provides an actionable framework with three simple columns to "defeat" the negative thoughts when they arise. You write down the immediate thoughts in the first column, find the cognitive distortion in place, and then write a more rational explanation of the event. As easy as that, you no longer feel like a loser!

So why is it important to combat the negative thoughts? What if you're a loser? Being bad at something is the prerequisite to being good at something. When I was starting my development career, my code sucked. Now it sucks a little bit less, but it is good enough to support tens of millions of users. Imagine if I stopped at the very beginning because my code sucked. Would I be where I am right now? I doubt it.

It's better to read the book or this summary to understand how cognitive therapy works. I found the notion of bibliotherapy interesting — that's when people read books like "Feeling Good," and suddenly they are less depressed. Otherwise, the book is perfect if you or someone close to you is suffering from depression or depression-like symptoms. You will learn how to recognize negative thoughts the moment they appear.

And then you can fight back.