Strengths of Will

Optimism is being hopeful about future outcomes combined with the agency to shape that future.

Being optimistic doesn't mean you don't get upset when bad things happen—it's normal to get upset! But the optimist recognizes that most bad things are temporary and looks for opportunities to change circumstances for the better through new efforts or strategies.

This isn’t your traditional “glass half full” optimism (which some might call blind positivity) because optimistic people seek to directly connect their own power and actions to the future they want. For example, after getting a bad grade on an exam, an optimistic student believes that studying harder or differently will earn her a better grade on the next one. Another critical part of optimism is not “catastrophizing” a situation. For example, when a friend doesn't want to play that day, the optimistic kid imagines that his friend is having a bad day, not that no one wants to be his friend.

Observing Optimism

Demonstrating optimism could involve:

  • Believing that effort will improve your future
  • When bad things happen, thinking about what you could do to avoid similar bad outcomes in the future

  • Staying motivated, even when things don’t go well

What the Research Says

Countless studies show that pessimists give up much more easily than optimists. Optimists do better in school, exceed predictions on aptitude tests, have better health, are resilient to depression, and possibly live longer. Research also shows that optimistic thinking can be learned. In a college study by Dr. Martin Seligman, freshmen who had an optimistic explanatory style “rose to the occasion” and did much better in college than predicted by their academic grades in high school and SAT scores. Conversely, those with a pessimistic explanatory style did much worse in college than predicted by their academic grades in high school and SAT scores.

In addition to our own expertise, this page is informed by the following readings:

Keep Exploring Optimism