Winston Churchill once said, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, while an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. What he is referring to is the manner in which people view the world. An individual’s knowledge and experiences go a long way in shaping a person’s attributions. Attributions are inferences individuals make about why something is or has happened. (Schneider et. al, 2012) People can be defined in one of two ways based on attributions they make about situations; optimists or pessimists. Pessimists have negative outcome expectancies that tend to demotivate people and produce destructive actions that are contrary to goals. Optimists, on the other hand, have positive outcome expectancies, that both influence individuals’ thinking and approach to life. (Schneider et. al, 2012) For the sake of this discussion, I will be focusing more on optimists and the concept of optimism. In particular, I will focus on the many benefits associated with the mental attitude of optimism.
Optimism by definition is “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions, and to expect the most favorable outcome to occur.” (Optimism, n.d.) Research findings have consistently found that individuals who operate under an optimistic frame of mind, consistently reap a host of social, psychological, and physical benefits their pessimistic counterparts do not. In the realm of romantic relationships, research suggests greater optimism among the people in a relationship correlates to greater satisfaction, happiness, and functioning in the relationship. (Schneider et. al, 2012) In friendships, optimism has been linked to a greater social support, as well as lower incidence of interpersonal conflict. In terms of health, optimism leads to better health-related lifestyle habits, higher levels of happiness, and a better ability to control personal mood. (Schneider et. al, 2012) The effects of optimism can also be seen in interpersonal group settings, such as offices and classrooms. Research suggests that optimism is associated with better performance, job satisfaction, work happiness, and organizational commitment in the occupational setting. Extensive research has been conducted on the concept of optimism, and the results all point to the idea that having an optimistic attitude provides a wealth of social, psychological, and physical benefits.
Optimism is best in moderation. Like with anything else, too much of it is not always good. For example, extreme optimism, or unrealistic optimism, can lead to arrogance, or overconfidence in one’s self. Unrealistic optimism is the tendency for people to believe that they are less likely to experience negative events, and more likely to experience positive events than others. (Jefferson et. al, 2017) This overconfidence can lead to a host of issues, including making bad decisions, interpersonal conflict, the better than average effect, and the illusion of control. These can all work together to affect an individual’s perception of what is based on reality and what is not. Optimism, therefore, can be likened to red wine. In moderation, there can be some nice benefits, but excessive amounts can create problems of its own.
People’s feelings and experiences drive how they view situations. These inferences are referred to as attributions. How people develop these attributions, determine whether they are categorized as an optimist or a pessimist. There are a host of benefits, (socially, physically, and psychologically) related to having an optimistic attitude. However, like with anything else, moderation is key, as too much optimism or blind optimism can create issues in its own right.
Jefferson, Anneli et al. “What is unrealistic optimism?” Consciousness and cognition vol. 50 (2017): 3-11.
Schneider, F.W., Gruman, J.A., & Coutts, L.A. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems-2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Optimism [Def. 1.] (n.d.). Dictionary.com. Retrieved from Optimism