Optimism
Overview
 
"Positive thinking" redirects here. For songs of that title, see Positive Thinking
Positive Thinking
Positive Thinking... or Positive Thinking may refer to one of two songs:*Positive Thinking *Positive Thinking...

.

The Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

defines optimism as having "hopefulness and confidence about the future or successful outcome of something; a tendency to take a favourable or hopeful view." The word is originally derived from the Latin optimum, meaning "best." Being optimistic, in the typical sense of the word, ultimately means one expects the best possible outcome from any given situation.
Quotations

Be optimistic. Always put on clean underwear if you're going on a date.

Jacob M. Appel, playwright, Arborophilia|Arborophilia

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.

James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion (1926)

For myself I am an optimist — it does not seem to be much use being anything else.

Winston Churchill, speech at the Lord Mayor's banquet, London, November 9, 1954

Jerry boy, why do you have to paint everything so black? Suppose you got hit by a truck. Suppose the stock market crashes. Suppose Mary Pickford divorces Douglas Fairbanks. Suppose the Dodgers leave Brooklyn!

Some Like It Hot

Always look on the bright side of life.

Eric Idle. Song written by Eric Idle for the film, Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

Two men look out through the same bars: One sees the mud, and one the stars.

Frederick Langbridge (1849–1923), A Cluster of Quiet Thoughts

Despite the cautions just raised, there is abundant reason to believe that optimism – big, little, and in between – is useful to a person because positive expectations can be self-fulfilling.

Christopher Peterson, American Psychologist, ISSN 0003-066X, January 2000, p. 51

"Optimist" is a word which here refers to a person...who thinks pleasant thoughts about nearly everything. For instance, if an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, "Well, this isn't too bad. I don't have my arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me if I am right-handed or left-handed", but most of us would say something more along the lines of "Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!"

Lemony Snicket, The Miserable Mill (2000)

This is a pleasant surprise, Archie. I would not have believed it. That of course is the advantage of being a pessimist; a pessimist gets nothing but pleasant surprises, an optimist nothing but unpleasant.

Nero Wolfe, in Nero WolfeFer-de-Lance|Fer-de-Lance (1934) by Rex Stout

The basis of optimism is sheer terror.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

Encyclopedia
"Positive thinking" redirects here. For songs of that title, see Positive Thinking
Positive Thinking
Positive Thinking... or Positive Thinking may refer to one of two songs:*Positive Thinking *Positive Thinking...

.

The Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

defines optimism as having "hopefulness and confidence about the future or successful outcome of something; a tendency to take a favourable or hopeful view." The word is originally derived from the Latin optimum, meaning "best." Being optimistic, in the typical sense of the word, ultimately means one expects the best possible outcome from any given situation. This is usually referred to in psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 as dispositional optimism.

Researchers sometimes operationalize the term differently depending on their research, however. For example, Martin Seligman
Martin Seligman
Martin E. P. "Marty" Seligman is an American psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books. His theory of "learned helplessness" is widely respected among scientific psychologists....

 and his fellow researchers define it in terms of explanatory style
Explanatory style
Explanatory style is a psychological attribute that indicates how people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, either positive or negative. Psychologists have identified three components in explanatory style:...

, which is based on the way one explains life events. As for any trait characteristic, there are several ways to evaluate optimism, such as various forms of the Life Orientation Test, for the original definition of optimism, or the Attributional Style Questionnaire designed to test optimism in terms of explanatory style.

While the heritability
Heritability
The Heritability of a population is the proportion of observable differences between individuals that is due to genetic differences. Factors including genetics, environment and random chance can all contribute to the variation between individuals in their observable characteristics...

 of optimism is largely debatable, most researchers agree that it seems to be a biological trait to some small degree, but it is also thought that optimism has more to do with environmental factors, making it a largely learned trait. It has also been suggested that optimism could appear to be a hereditary trait because it is actually a manifestation of combined traits that are mostly heritable, like intelligence
Intelligence
Intelligence has been defined in different ways, including the abilities for abstract thought, understanding, communication, reasoning, learning, planning, emotional intelligence and problem solving....

 and temperament
Temperament
In psychology, temperament refers to those aspects of an individual's personality, such as introversion or extroversion, that are often regarded as innate rather than learned...

. Optimism may also be linked to health
Health
Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living being. In humans, it is the general condition of a person's mind, body and spirit, usually meaning to be free from illness, injury or pain...

.

Explanatory style

Explanatory style
Explanatory style
Explanatory style is a psychological attribute that indicates how people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, either positive or negative. Psychologists have identified three components in explanatory style:...

 is different, though related to, the more traditional, narrower definition of optimism. This broader concept is based on the theory that optimism and pessimism
Pessimism
Pessimism, from the Latin word pessimus , is a state of mind in which one perceives life negatively. Value judgments may vary dramatically between individuals, even when judgments of fact are undisputed. The most common example of this phenomenon is the "Is the glass half empty or half full?"...

 are drawn from the particular way people explain events. There are three dimensions within typical explanations, which include internal versus external, stable versus unstable, and global versus specific. Optimistic justifications toward negative experiences are attributed to factors outside the self (external), are not likely to occur consistently (unstable), and are limited specific life domains (specific). Positive experiences would be optimistically labeled as the opposite: internal, stable, global.

There is much debate about the relationship between explanatory style and optimism. Some researchers argue that there is not much difference at all; optimism is just the lay term for what scientists call explanatory style. Others argue that explanatory style is exclusive to its concept and should not be interchangeable with optimism.

It is generally thought that, though they should not be used interchangeably, dispositional optimism and explanatory style are at least marginally related. Ultimately, the problem is simply that more research must be done to either define a "bridge" or further differentiate between these concepts.

Philosophy

Philosopher
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

s often link the concept of optimism with the name of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who held that we live in the best of all possible worlds
Best of all possible worlds
The phrase "the best of all possible worlds" was coined by the German polymath Gottfried Leibniz in his 1710 work Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal...

, or that God created a physical universe that applies the laws of physics, which Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

 famously mocked in his satirical novel Candide
Candide
Candide, ou l'Optimisme is a French satire first published in 1759 by Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment. The novella has been widely translated, with English versions titled Candide: or, All for the Best ; Candide: or, The Optimist ; and Candide: or, Optimism...

. A modern manifestation of this approach is exemplified in artist Rina Krevat through her abstract art and tenor singing. The philosophical pessimism of William Godwin
William Godwin
William Godwin was an English journalist, political philosopher and novelist. He is considered one of the first exponents of utilitarianism, and the first modern proponent of anarchism...

 demonstrated perhaps even more optimism than Leibniz. He hoped that society would eventually reach the state where calm reason would replace all violence and force, that mind could eventually make matter subservient to it, and that intelligence could discover the secret of immortality
Immortality
Immortality is the ability to live forever. It is unknown whether human physical immortality is an achievable condition. Biological forms have inherent limitations which may or may not be able to be overcome through medical interventions or engineering...

. Much of this philosophy is exemplified in the Houyhnhnm
Houyhnhnm
Houyhnhnms are a race of intelligent horses described in the last part of Jonathan Swift's satirical Gulliver's Travels. The name is pronounced either or ....

s of Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet and cleric who became Dean of St...

's Gulliver's Travels
Gulliver's Travels
Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, better known simply as Gulliver's Travels , is a novel by Anglo-Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift that is both a satire on human nature and a parody of...

.

Panglossianism

The term "panglossianism" describes baseless optimism of the sort exemplified by the beliefs of Pangloss from Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

's Candide
Candide
Candide, ou l'Optimisme is a French satire first published in 1759 by Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment. The novella has been widely translated, with English versions titled Candide: or, All for the Best ; Candide: or, The Optimist ; and Candide: or, Optimism...

, which are the opposite of his fellow traveller Martin's pessimism
Pessimism
Pessimism, from the Latin word pessimus , is a state of mind in which one perceives life negatively. Value judgments may vary dramatically between individuals, even when judgments of fact are undisputed. The most common example of this phenomenon is the "Is the glass half empty or half full?"...

 and emphasis on free will
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

. The phrase "panglossian pessimism" has been used to describe the pessimistic position that, since this is the best of all possible worlds, it is impossible for anything to get any better.

The panglossian paradigm is a term coined by Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation....

 and Richard Lewontin
Richard Lewontin
Richard Charles "Dick" Lewontin is an American evolutionary biologist, geneticist and social commentator. A leader in developing the mathematical basis of population genetics and evolutionary theory, he pioneered the notion of using techniques from molecular biology such as gel electrophoresis to...

 to refer to the notion that everything has specifically adapted to suit specific purposes. Instead, they argue, accidents and exaptation
Exaptation
Exaptation, cooption, and preadaptation are related terms referring to shifts in the function of a trait during evolution. For example, a trait can evolve because it served one particular function, but subsequently it may come to serve another. Exaptations are common in both anatomy and behaviour...

 (the use of old features for new purposes) play an important role in the process of evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

. Some other scientists however argue the implication that many (or most) adaptionists are panglossians is a straw man
Straw man
A straw man is a component of an argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position, twisting his words or by means of [false] assumptions...

.

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time Michael Shermer
Michael Shermer
Michael Brant Shermer is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members...

 relates Frank J. Tipler
Frank J. Tipler
Frank Jennings Tipler is a mathematical physicist and cosmologist, holding a joint appointment in the Departments of Mathematics and Physics at Tulane University. Tipler has authored books and papers on the Omega Point, which he claims is a mechanism for the resurrection of the dead. It has been...

 to Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

's character Pangloss to show how clever people deceive themselves. Shermer explores the psychology of scholars and business men who give up their careers in their pursuit to broadcast their paranormal beliefs. In his last chapter, added to the revised version, Shermer explains that "smart people" can be more susceptible to believing in weird things.

Optimalism

Optimalism, as defined by Nicholas Rescher
Nicholas Rescher
Nicholas Rescher is an American philosopher at the University of Pittsburgh. In a productive research career extending over six decades, Rescher has established himself as a systematic philosopher of the old style and author of a system of pragmatic idealism which weaves together threads of...

, holds that this universe exists because it is better than the alternatives. While this philosophy does not exclude the possibility of a deity
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

, it also doesn't require one, and is compatible with atheism
Atheism
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

. The positive psychologist
Positive psychology
Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology whose purpose was summed up in 1998 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: "We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in...

 Tal Ben-Shahar uses optimalism to mean willingness to accept failure while remaining confident that success will follow, a positive attitude he contrasts with negative perfectionism
Perfectionism (psychology)
Perfectionism, in psychology, is a belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. In its pathological form, perfectionism is a belief that work or output that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable...

. Perfectionism can be defined as a persistent compulsive drive toward unattainable goals and valuation based solely in terms of accomplishment. Perfectionists reject the realities and constraints of human ability. They cannot accept failures, delaying any ambitious and productive behavior in fear of failure again. This neuroticism
Neuroticism
Neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait in the study of psychology. It is an enduring tendency to experience negative emotional states. Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than the average to experience such feelings as anxiety, anger, guilt, and depressed mood...

 can even lead to clinical depression
Clinical depression
Major depressive disorder is a mental disorder characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities...

 and low productivity. As an alternative to negative perfectionism Ben-Shahar suggests the adoption of optimalism. Optimalism allows for failure in pursuit of a goal, and expects that while the trend of activity will tend towards the positive it is not necessary to always succeed while striving to attain goals. This basis in reality prevents the optimalist from being overwhelmed in the face of failure.
Optimalists accept failures and also learn from them, which encourages further pursuit of acievement. Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar believes that Optimalists and Perfectionists show distinct different motives. Optimalists tend to have more intrinsic, inward desires, with a motivation to learn. While perfectionists are highly motivated by a need to consistently prove themselves worthy.

Assessment

Life Orientation Test (LOT)

Designed by Scheier and Carver (1985), this is one of the more popular tests of optimism and pessimism. There are eight measurements (and an additional four filler items), with four positively ("In uncertain times, I usually expect the best") and four negatively ("If something can go wrong for me, it will") worded items. The LOT has been revised twice--once by the original creators (LOT-R) and also by Chang, Maydeu-Olivares, and D'Zurilla as the Extended Life Orientation Test (ELOT). All three are most commonly used because they are based on dispositional optimism, which simply means expecting positive outcomes.

Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ)

This questionnaire created by Peterson et al. (1982) is based on the explanatory style definition of optimism. It lists six positive and negative events ("you have been looking for a job unsuccessfully for some time"), and asks the respondents to record a possible cause for the event and rate the internality, stability, and globality of the event. An optimistic person is one who perceives good things happening to them as internal, stable, and global. There are several modified versions of the ASQ including the Expanded Attributional Style Questionnaire (EASQ), the Content Analysis of Verbatim Explanations (CAVE), and the ASQ designed for testing the optimism for children.

Health

Research has emerged showing the relationships between several psychological constructs and health
Health
Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living being. In humans, it is the general condition of a person's mind, body and spirit, usually meaning to be free from illness, injury or pain...

. Optimism is one of these concepts and has been shown to explain
Explained variation
In statistics, explained variation or explained randomness measures the proportion to which a mathematical model accounts for the variation of a given data set...

 between 5–10% of the variation in the likelihood of developing some health conditions (correlation coefficients between .20 and .30), notably including cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease
Heart disease or cardiovascular disease are the class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels . While the term technically refers to any disease that affects the cardiovascular system , it is usually used to refer to those related to atherosclerosis...

, stroke
Stroke
A stroke, previously known medically as a cerebrovascular accident , is the rapidly developing loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia caused by blockage , or a hemorrhage...

, depression, and cancer
Cancer
Cancer , known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the...

.

Furthermore, optimists have been shown to live healthier lifestyles which may influence disease. For example, optimists smoke less, are more physically active, consume more fruit, vegetables and whole-grain bread, and consume more moderate amounts of alcohol.

The relationship between optimism and health has also been studied with regards to physical symptoms, coping strategies and negative affect for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, systemic inflammatory disorder that may affect many tissues and organs, but principally attacks synovial joints. The process produces an inflammatory response of the synovium secondary to hyperplasia of synovial cells, excess synovial fluid, and the development...

, asthma
Asthma
Asthma is the common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath...

, and fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a medical disorder characterized by chronic widespread pain and allodynia, a heightened and painful response to pressure. It is an example of a diagnosis of exclusion...

. It has been found that among individuals with these diseases, optimists are not more likely than pessimists to report pain alleviation due to coping strategies, despite differences in psychological well-being between the two groups. A meta-analysis
Meta-analysis
In statistics, a meta-analysis combines the results of several studies that address a set of related research hypotheses. In its simplest form, this is normally by identification of a common measure of effect size, for which a weighted average might be the output of a meta-analyses. Here the...

 has confirmed the assumption that optimism is related to psychological well-being: “Put simply, optimists emerge from difficult circumstances with less distress than do pessimists.” Furthermore, the correlation appears to be attributable to coping style: “That is, optimists seem intent on facing problems head-on, taking active and constructive steps to solve their problems; pessimists are more likely to abandon their effort to attain their goals.”

It should be noted that research to date has demonstrated that optimists are less likely to have certain diseases or develop certain diseases over time. By comparison, research has not yet been able to demonstrate the ability to change an individual's level of optimism through psychological intervention, and thereby alter the course of disease or likelihood for development of disease.

See also

  • Affirmations (New Age)
    Affirmations (New Age)
    Affirmations in New Age and New Thought terminology refers primarily to the practice of positive thinking—fostering a belief that "a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything." More specifically an affirmation is a carefully formatted statement that should...

  • Agathism
    Agathism
    Agathology, or Agathism, from the Greek agatha- is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "The doctrine that all things tend towards ultimate good, as distinguished from optimism, which holds that all things are now for the best". An agathist accepts that evil and misfortune will ultimately...

  • Mood (psychology)
    Mood (psychology)
    A mood is a relatively long lasting emotional state. Moods differ from emotions in that they are less specific, less intense, and less likely to be triggered by a particular stimulus or event....

  • Optimism bias
    Optimism bias
    Optimism bias is the demonstrated systematic tendency for people to be overly optimistic about the outcome of planned actions. This includes over-estimating the likelihood of positive events and under-estimating the likelihood of negative events. Along with the illusion of control and illusory...

  • Pessimism
    Pessimism
    Pessimism, from the Latin word pessimus , is a state of mind in which one perceives life negatively. Value judgments may vary dramatically between individuals, even when judgments of fact are undisputed. The most common example of this phenomenon is the "Is the glass half empty or half full?"...

  • Self-efficacy
    Self-efficacy
    Self-efficacy is a term used in psychology, roughly corresponding to a person's belief in their own competence.It has been defined as the belief that one is capable of performing in a certain manner to attain certain set of goals. It is believed that our personalized ideas of self-efficacy affect...

  • Philosophy
    Philosophy
    Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

  • Philosophy of happiness
    Philosophy of happiness
    The philosophy of happiness is a direction by which philosophical inquiry approaches the nature of happiness and the ways by which to attain it...

  • Positive psychology
    Positive psychology
    Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology whose purpose was summed up in 1998 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: "We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in...

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