How Optimistic Are You?

Those of us who favour looking at the bright side of life and seeing opportunities in less than ideal circumstances are prototypical optimists. Technically, optimism is the systematic tendency to expect the best possible outcomes. Some argue it’s merely a bias we’re hardwired to experience (see the Optimism Bias by Tali Sharot). Regardless of its’ roots, optimism has been associated with many benefits including healthand happiness, and even career success and job satisfaction.

So how optimistic are you? In a recent Life Strategies’ survey, 65% of respondents considered themselves optimists whereas only 2% of respondents considered themselves pessimists (i.e., having a systematic tendency to expect the worst possible outcomes). The remaining 33% saw themselves as realists (i.e., having a systematic tendency to expect the most likely outcome).
Those who identified as optimists preferred to see the positive in life, embracing change and uncertainty. Many noted positive expectations have lead to positive outcomes – consider the self-fulfilling prophecy where individuals will succeed because they believe they can.
Although only a few respondents identified as pessimists, reasons included focusing on the negative side, overanalyzing situations, and self-protection. Some of our pessimistic respondents realized this viewpoint was problematic; however, felt it was hard to change.
Some reasons why respondents identified as “realists” were a preference for logic and objectiveness, as well as a distaste for concepts such as destiny and luck. Realists saw this as a safer, middle-of-the-road choice; it’s a bit of both (i.e., not overly pessimistic or blindly optimistic). They also reflected on past experiences that have tainted their views of optimism, seeing realism as necessary to mediate both the good and the bad that life throws at them.
Respondents also highlighted strategies they use to stay optimistic in difficult times. Responses included:
  • Connecting with friends and family
  • Avoiding negative people
  • Engaging in positive self-talk
  • Adopting a more solution-focused mind frame
  • Setting priorities and goals
  • Maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle (e.g., getting enough sleep, eating well, enjoying hobbies/activities)
  • Getting outside and being active
  • Using relaxation meditation techniques
  • Appreciating what you’ve got
  • Recognizing things could be worse
  • Relying on one’s faith
  • Reframing negative experiences
  • Focussing on the learning
  • Reaching out for help when necessary

Luckily optimism can be learned; to strengthen your own optimism or adopt a more optimistic viewpoint on life, check out our tip sheet on the topic.

Originally posted May 29, 2012 by Cassie Saunders

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