What is Optimism?

By: Chris Anderson Psy.D.

Optimism is generally about confidence or hopefulness for the future, or that a specific event, will turn out positive and successful. There is research that suggests that humans may be wired toward being optimistic. Studies show that men and women have similar levels of optimism with the only real gender difference being that men tend to be optimistic about their financial future than women. Optimists tend to have more skills for coping, being flexible, and having greater acceptance. Part of what encompasses optimism is the attributional outlook and style. Let’s explore this further.

The Attributions of Optimists

By attribution, we are referring to what a person attributes a cause to, or how they explain an outcome. Noted researcher Martin Seligman did many studies on optimism and focused on three key attributional areas: permeance, pervasiveness, and personalization. Permeance refers to the perception or belief that events are either temporary or permanent. What he found is that optimists tend to believe failures or negative outcomes are temporary or transient as opposed to permanent. An example might be attributing a bad test grade to not enough studying. Interestingly, they also tend to believe that positive outcomes are more permanent, such as being a smart person when they do well on a test. Not surprisingly, pessimists tend to have just the opposite beliefs and attributions for positive and negative events.

Pervasiveness refers to whether a person sees an outcome as specific or global. Optimists tend to view negative events as confined to the specific situation such as telling themselves that, “I just wasn’t on my A game today”. Similarly, they see positive outcomes in more global terms such as, “I won the tennis game, because I’m a really good player”. Again, pessimists tend to make the opposite attributions. Seligman believes that an optimistic view of permeance and pervasiveness together create the concept of hope.

Personalization refers to whether a person views outcomes as internal or external to themselves. As you might guess, optimists tend to attribute positive outcomes to an internal and personal element of themselves (Ex. I’m really mechanically inclined), and negative outcomes to external sources and causes such as the belief that a negative outcome was just bad luck.

What are the Benefits of Optimism?

It seems that optimists are living a better life in many ways. Research finds that optimists tend to live longer and are less prone to getting sick, being tired, or falling prey to depression. They have better immune and cardiovascular functioning. Optimist’s report being happier in life, have more positive emotions, and feel they have better and stronger relationships. Their self-esteem tends to be higher, are more energetic, and feel they have greater mastery of life. Optimistic thinking activates certain brain structures that process pleasure, rewards, and release dopamine and natural opioids which further reinforce this mindset and neural pathways. Pessimistic thinking follows a different neural path to the amygdala which responds to threats and fears and tends to release stress hormones. Although all humans have both neural pathways, often whether someone ends more optimistic or pessimistic is determined by which path gets the most use.

So, are there downsides to being optimistic?

Actually, there might be. Studies show that optimists, because of their outlook, may end up taking unnecessary risks with their health and finances believing things will work out well. Blind faith doesn’t always pay off and it may require some intentional and conscious effort to balance the optimistic default with a little skepticism and realism before jumping all in.

If you are interested in looking more at your thinking styles and patterns, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule a consultation with one of our psychologists or psychiatrists so we can help discuss treatment options. Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

To get more great resources, sign up for our newsletter, like us on Face Book, or follow us on Twitter.

Innovative Psychological Consultants

Peace of Mind You Deserve

Schedule An Appointment

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Looking for a Therapist or Psychiatrist?