Optimism is the tendency to think positively. The expression, “The glass is half full” refers to optimistic thinking. Optimism is the opposite of pessimism.
What is Optimism?
Optimistic people tend to have more positive thoughts, be more hopeful, and view the future in a positive light. When a situation is neutral, a person who is optimistic will be more likely to see it as positive, while a pessimistic person is more likely to see it as negative. Optimistic people also tend to see positive aspects of frustrating situations. Optimistic thinking can be a one-time event; it can also be a strategy for coping with stress or a personality trait.
Examples of Optimism
People can have different levels of optimism over time and one’s degree of optimism can change depending on the context or situation. Here are some examples of optimism in action:
- A person who is going through a difficult divorce tries to focus on the positive benefits of the divorce process.
- When a person hears the phone ring, he or she assumes the person on the other line is someone they want to hear from.
- A child who loses their favorite toy believes that another child found the toy and is enjoying it.
Optimism as Personality Trait
Children of optimists tend to be more optimistic themselves, and some researchers believe there is a genetic basis for optimism. However, it could be that optimism is learned early in development. Optimistic thinking is a relatively stable personality trait, but life experiences such as trauma and stress can limit a person’s optimistic thinking.
In recent years, there has been a flurry of research into the benefits of optimism, and many people are interested in learning how to be more optimistic. For example, the book, The Power of Positive Thinking, focuses on the benefits of optimism and recommends strategies for becoming more optimistic. Many self-help books recommend coping skills that involve optimism or offer specific strategies for stopping negative thoughts and replacing them with more optimistic ones.
Optimism and Mental Health
There is evidence that optimistic thinking is correlated with better mental health. For example, people experiencing depression tend to be overwhelmed by negative, pessimistic thoughts that then exacerbate the depression. Some mental health professionals work to help people develop healthy, positive thought processes to combat depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
- Peale, N. V. (2003). The power of positive thinking. New York, NY: Fireside/Simon & Schuster.
- Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1992). Effects of optimism on psychological and physical well-being: Theoretical overview and empirical update. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 16(2), 201-228. doi: 10.1007/BF01173489
Last Updated: 08-12-2015
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