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Feeling Good Summary by David D. Burns [ PDF, Audiobook and Quotes ]

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What Is the Book About?

Feeling Good includes an explanation of the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It details ways to improve a person’s mood and life by identifying and eliminating common cognitive distortions, as well as methods to improve communication skills. Exercises are presented throughout the book to assist the reader in identifying cognitive distortions and replace them with healthy beliefs.

A revised edition was published in 1999. In 2013, the book was one of 30 titles approved by The Reading Agency as part of a project to recommend self-help books to people suffering from mental health issues.

About the Author

David D. Burns, M.D. is a clinical psychiatrist. He conveys his ideas with warmth, compassion, understanding, and humor unmatched by any other writer in the self-help field. His bestselling Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy has sold more than three million copies to date. In a recent national survey of mental health professionals, Feeling Good was rated number one—from a list of more than one thousand—as the most frequently recommended self-help book on depression. His Feeling Good Handbook was rated number two in the same survey.

Dr. Burns’s entertaining teaching style has made him a popular lecturer for general audiences and mental health professionals throughout the country as well as a frequent guest on national radio and television programs. He has received numerous awards including the Distinguished Contribution to Psychology Through the Media Award from the Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology. A magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst College, Dr. Burns received his medical degree from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Feeling Good Summary

Book summary of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns

Dr. David Burns has found in his late research on cognitive therapy that depression can be cured naturally, without taking any antidepressant drugs.

We’re going to go through the process of doing so but first, keep in mind that you’re not the only person who’s suffering from depression. Taking into consideration that others have gone through the same painful experiences can bring about relief and a sense of unity.

Also if you are someone who is positive and you think that depression is not for you anymore, you should reconsider that thought again. In many cases, positive people get so egotistic about their positivity to a point that they start resisting unpleasant emotions like sadness.

The big idea from this introduction is to stop resisting the state that you find your self in. Even clinging to positive emotions can make you depressed. Emotions are just “chemicals” running through your body and those emotional chemicals are not permanent. They are meant to come and go just like any other experience.

First, we need to understand how you got depressed in the first place and then we get to solve your illness. Think of it as a math equation, if we happen to internalize the rule we can solve the equation.

The rule here is simple: your thoughts create your emotions. You feel the way you do because of the thoughts you are thinking right now. That is why in some guided meditations, they tell you to focus on what you are thinking at the moment to identify what you are feeling. If you are confused about an event that happened to you lately, then your emotional state at the moment could be confusing.

How Depression Occurs

In the United States, 5.3% of the population will at any given time have depression, and the lifetime risk is 7-8% in adults, and higher for women. Forty years ago, the mean age for onset of depression was 29.5; today it has halved to 14.5 years. And though rates differ around the developed world, the incidence of depressive illness has risen dramatically since 1900.

Prior to the 1980s, David Burns writes, depression had been the cancer of the psychological world – widespread but difficult to treat – and the taboos associated with it made the problem worse for most people. As with cancer, finding a ‘cure’ had been its holy grail; everything from Freudian psychoanalysis to shock treatment was applied to the problem, with not very good results.

Dr. Burns describes how depression occurs:

First: We have the event that takes place in the outside world

Second: We interpret the event with a series of thoughts; this is called your internal dialogue.

Third: Your feelings are created by your thoughts and not the actual event. In other words, the way you think in any situation will determine how you will feel about it.

Seeing Through Black Magic

In the history of psychiatry, Burns notes, depression has always been seen as an emotional disorder. As a result, most therapy has been about ‘getting in touch with your feelings’. Most therapists have believed that maturity means opening up and expressing what’s inside, an assumption based on the view that one’s feelings “…represent a higher reality, a personal integrity, a truth beyond question.”

But do they?

Cognitive therapy’s revolutionary idea is that depression is not an emotional disorder at all. The bad feelings we have in depression all stem from negative thoughts, therefore treatment must be about challenging and changing those thoughts.

Burns includes a list of ten ‘cognitive distortions’, such as all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, disqualifying the positive, jumping to conclusions and giving ourselves labels. By understanding these distortions, we are led to the awareness that ‘feelings aren’t facts’. They are only the mirrors of our thoughts.

Cognitive Distortions

Now that you’ve got the rule, let’s look at the equation. When you interpret an event as negative, Dr. Burns describes that as “Cognitive Distortion”. If you perceive an event as negative you create distorted thoughts and therefore unpleasant emotions. Sometimes you could be right, the event is unpleasant and needs to be interpreted that way. We have to be realistic about it. But, for people who suffer from “mild” levels of depression, those cognitive distortions become so habituated to a certain degree that they start perceiving everything in black and white. Dr. Burns cited ten different cognitive distortions that you tend to have when you’re depressed. Let’s look at some examples for the most common ones:

All-or-Nothing Thinking

Let’s say that you want to learn standup comedy. You took some classes and after a month you decided to give it a shot and go live. So you go on stage and started cracking the lamest jokes because you were nervous and it was your first time. The audience got bored and left. As a result, you thought to yourself that you had no chance of becoming a comedian or that you would never be going to be good at doing anything. This kind of cognitive distortion is called “All-or-Nothing Thinking”. Either I’m good at this or I will never be.

This type of cognitive distortion is conveying an exaggeration of a negative event. The event itself is negative but instead of perceiving it as a passing experience, you hold on to the cons.

ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. 

Mental Filtering

This leads us to the second cognitive distortion which is called “Mental Filtering”. You take one negative thing in any situation and keep dwelling on it. Take this book summary as an example, no matter how much I put the time to make valuable content, there will be that one guy or girl, who will filter all the value and leave a negative comment about wrong punctuation in a paragraph. Instead of saying “OK, let’s evaluate this objectively, what did I learn from this summary? I learned about something called ‘cognitive therapy’ I can cure my depression without taking any anti-depressant drugs.”

People who perceive reality from a mental filter, no matter how hard you try to convince them that the event is actually positive, will always find something negative about it.

MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that colors the entire beaker of water.   

Jumping to Conclusions

Imagine that you got hit by a car. You’re on your way to the hospital and no matter how much the doctors keep telling you that you didn’t get a scratch you just got dizzy and you’re ready to go home in three hours, you keep thinking to yourself: “Oh my god, what if I got brain damage? And if my brain is damaged will my girlfriend still want to go out with me?”

This one is called “Jumping to Conclusions”. This is like exaggerating with your expectations and projecting to unrealistic conclusions.

Since the process of emotion formation happens in a fraction of a second, we have little to no control over it. The good news is, however, even if those thoughts get distorted and you fall into depression, you still have a chance to re-construct them after their occurrence. You have the opportunity to re-frame those distorted thoughts and therefore change your mood. It is scary how one thought can have the power to change someone’s life for the better or the worst.

JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
a. Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.
b. The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact. 

Magnification and Minimization

When you magnify, you look at your errors, fears, or imperfections and exaggerate their importance. This has also been called “catastrophizing” because you turn commonplace negative events into nightmarish monsters.

When you minimize, you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny such as your own desirable qualities or others’ imperfections. This is also called the “binocular trick”.

MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny.

Emotional Reasoning

You take your emotions as evidence for the truth. Your logic: “I feel like a loser, therefore I am a loser.” This kind of reasoning is misleading because your feelings reflect your thoughts and beliefs.

EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

Labeling and Mislabeling

Labeling refers to your tendency to create a completely negative self-image based on your errors.

Mislabeling refers to your tendency to describe an event with words that are inaccurate and emotionally heavily loaded.

LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a goddam louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.

Labeling yourself is not only self-defeating, it is irrational. Your self cannot be equated with any one thing you do. Your life is a complex and ever-changing flow of thoughts, emotions, and actions. To put it another way, you are more like a river than a statue. Stop trying to define yourself with negative labels.” 


You arbitrarily conclude that one thing that happened to you once will occur over and over again. The pain of rejection is generated almost entirely from overgeneralization.

OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

Disqualifying the Positive

You transform neutral or even positive experiences into negative ones. Burns calls this, “reverse alchemy.” Disqualifying the positive is one of the most destructive forms of cognitive distortion.

DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.

Should Statements

You try to motivate yourself by saying, “I should do this” or “I must do that.”

SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment. 


You assume responsibility for a negative event when there is no basis for doing so.

PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the main cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

Practical Strategies

David Burns presents us with some practical strategies for dealing with these cognitive distortions.

The first step is to start being mindful enough to catch those automatic negative thoughts and write them down. Don’t let them buzz around in your head.

The second step is to learn precisely how you are twisting things and blowing them out of proportion.

The third step is to substitute a more objective thought that counters the one which made you look down on yourself.

If you hear a thought telling you that you are not good at doing anything, catch that negative thought and write it down. Now write a logical more realistic counter thought to it. Try to find out all the logical reasons that convey clearly that you are good at something, no matter what the thought says. You can read what you wrote every morning before you go about your day and with time, the subconscious will re-wire itself. So instead of weighing you down, your thoughts will start boosting your mood naturally. This is the basic gist of cognitive-behavioral therapy.


1- Your emotions are created by your thoughts and not the actual event.

2- Cognitive distortions: We reviewed the most common distortions that you tend to fall into when you’re depressed.

3- We looked at the practical side of the book, which is to fix those distortions by writing them and replacing them with more realistic logical thoughts. Over time, your brain will re-wire itself for the better.

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Feeling Good Summary
Feeling Good Summary

Adapted from The Journey YouTube channel, Wikipedia, Tom Butler-Bowdon and Samuel Thomas Davies book summaries.

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