Theories of optimism (explanatory and dispositional) and ways of measuring it have been developed. It is believed to be inheritable to a certain extent and to some degree responds to certain biological traits, and which, on the other hand, is influenced by familiar and environmental factors, and can be learned.
Health-related optimism is also considered.
For emotional intelligence is a necessary attitude to avoid apathy, despair or depression.
There is a philosophical idea that holds that the present moment is in an optimal state. The past, present, and future work with optimization laws along Hamilton’s lines. The concept of optimism is linked with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who argued that we live in the best of all possible worlds. The pessimistic position holds that since this is the best of all possible worlds, it is impossible for anything to improve. Conversely, philosophical pessimism could be associated with a long-term optimistic view because it implies that no change is possible for the worse.
Optimism is related to goodness, happiness, satisfaction of material and spiritual needs (epicureanism), physical and intellectual pleasure, harmony (Leibniz), Emerson‘s transcendentalism, and Nietzsche‘s nihilism.
Candide, ou l’Optimisme (Voltaire)
Voltaire writes a novel that satirizes the philosophy of Leibniz following the vicissitudes of the protagonist Candide in his first encounter with the precept of Leibnizian optimism and in a series of subsequent adventures that dramatically refute the famous precept.
In Candide, Leibniz is represented by the philosopher Pangloss, tutor of the protagonist. This philosopher, despite observing and experiencing a series of misfortunes, repeatedly affirms that “everything happens for the good” and that he lives in the best of all possible worlds.
The strength and value of optimism
In recent years, research in psychology has strived to better understand what strengths and competencies can lead to greater personal satisfaction.
Studies have found correlation between optimism and:
- Less depressive problems
- Less physical illness
- Better face stressful situations
- Favor better academic and sports performance
- Favor a better professional adaptation
Optimism helps us overcome difficulties, while allowing us to build ambitious goals and dreams that keep us motivated and goal-oriented.
Optimists seem to move more easily to resolve their concerns, feel more capable, more controlled, and more likely to succeed. Therefore, they do more to improve and think less about their malaise, they look for more and better solutions, and try it many more times.
It has been found that people with an optimistic style often attribute positive events to permanent, global, and self-seeking causes. This helps to have positive beliefs and attributions that invite us to approach the world, the people, to experience without fear, and to trust in our abilities, over which we have control and are stable in time. Negative events, in turn, are often attributed to external, temporal, and limited or accidental factors.
Full attention and optimism
Optimism has been shown to improve the immune system and prevent chronic diseases. Optimism has proven to be a factor in:
- Protect against coronary heart disease (Tindle et al., 2009)
- Favor mothers to have healthier, heavier babies (Lobel, DeVincent, Kaminer, & Meyer, 2000)
- Increase longevity of life (Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc and Offord, 2000)
- Recovery before disease (Carver et al., 1993, Schou, Ekeberg, & Ruland, 2005, Schou et al., 2005, Carver, Lehman and Antoni, 2003)
- Increasing sleep quality (Howell et al., 2008)
- Protect against the development of chronic diseases (Matthews, Raikkonen, Sutton-Tyrell and Kuller, 2004).
- Improve the immune system (Kohut, Cooper, Nickolaus, Russell and Cunnick, 2002, Segerstrom and Sephton, 2010)
- Improve the positive immune response in people infected with HIV (Ironson et al., 2005)
- Lower mortality in HIV-positive men (Blomkvist et al., 1994)
- Better psychological response after HIV diagnosis, greater control over personal health and well-being (Taylor et al., 1992)
- Protect against the risk of developing alcohol dependence in people with a family history of alcoholism (Ohannessian, Hesselbrock, Tennen and Affleck, 1993)
- Greater success in treating alcohol abuse with greater chances of remaining in treatment and withdrawal (Strack, Carver and Blaney, 1987)
- Less likelihood of substance abuse during pregnancy (Park, Moore, Turner and Adler, 1997)
Optimism seems to be an important factor in health risk behaviors, whether people choose to participate in them or decide to change or abandon certain habits, such as smoking cessation.
The studies described above share a common theme: optimism can have profound effects on a person’s physical health. Merely expecting positive results and being hopeful can boost a person’s immune system, protect against harmful behaviors, prevent chronic illnesses and help people cope with troubling news. Optimism can even predict a longer life.
Optimism and Psychological Health
Among the psychological constructs, optimism may be one of the most important predictors of physical health. Optimism has proven to be a factor in:
- Coping with difficult life events (Brissette, Scheier & Carver, 2002)
- Greater satisfaction with life and self-esteem (Lucas, Diener, & Suh, 1996)
- More rapid recovery from disappointments (Litt et al., 1992)
- Greater psychological well-being (Taylor et al., 1992)
- Better acceptance of the reality of difficult situations (Carver et al., 1993)
- Lower depression and greater well-being of people caring for other people with cancer (Det et al., 1993), Alzheimer’s (Hooker et al., 1992), and mental disorders (Singh et al., 2004).
Bias of optimism
Optimism bias is a cognitive bias that causes a person to believe that they are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others. The bias of optimism is quite common and transcends gender, race, nationality and age. According to neuroscientist Tali Sharot, 80% of people are biased optimistically.
There are four factors that make a person biased optimistically:
- Comparative judgment: People tend to see their risks as less than others because they believe that this is what other people want to see. These explanations include self-improvement, self-presentation and perceived control.
- Cognitive mechanisms: Optimistic bias is possibly also influenced by three cognitive mechanisms that guide judgments and decision-making processes:
- The heuristic of representativeness: Individuals tend to think of stereotypical categories rather than their actual goals when making comparisons.
- The singular objective approach: While individuals know how to think of themselves as a single person, they still think of others as a generalized group and generally ignore the average person
- Interpersonal distance: Perceived risk differences occur depending on how far or near an objective an individual is making an estimate of the risk. The greater the perceived distance between the self and the comparison objective, the greater the perceived difference in risk.
- The information they have about themselves versus others: Individuals know much more about themselves than about others. Because information about others is less available, self versus other information leads people to make specific conclusions about their own risk, but it makes them more difficult to draw conclusions about the risk of others. This leads to differences in judgments and conclusions about risks themselves compared to the risks of others.
- The underlying affection: People show a less optimistic bias when they experience a negative mood and a more optimistic bias when they are in a positive mood. Positive moods promote happy memories and more positive feelings. Positive experiences in general and positive attitudes lead to a more optimistic bias in events. The consequences of the bias of optimism are that positive events often lead to feelings of well-being and self-esteem, while negative events lead to more risky consequences for those who have not taken precautionary measures for safety.
Because optimistic bias can be a strong decision-making force, it is important to note how risk perception is determined and how this will result in preventive behavior.
The incurable optimist
Finally there is the incurable optimist, who is that optimist who pushes relentlessly forward, again and again, never letting the evidence prevent him from believing in the good that lies ahead. These are the best optimists of all.
Undoubtedly, optimistic people are a lot more fun. They are actually happier, healthier and more attractive people. They have an energetic sheen that draws everyone to want to be around them. We are attracted to those people who are optimistic because optimistic people make everything happier.
If you want to know a little bit more …
Sharot, T. (2012) The optimism bias: Why we’re wired to look on the bright side. Robinson, Ltd.
Seligman, Martin E.P. (2017) Aprenda optimismo: Haga de su vida una experiencia maravillosa. Editorial Debolsillo.
Rojas, L. (2015) La fuerza del optimismo. Clave.
Rees, A. (2013) Success follows the incurable optimist. Forbes. Aug. 5, 2013.
Rodríguez, J.A. (2017) Optimismo ¿Una ilusión necesaria?. La Vanguardia. Magazine. 11 de Junio de 2017.
Lyubomirsky, S. y Devoto, A. (2008) La ciencia de la felicidad. Urano.
Other web pages of interest on the subject:
Bibliographical references on the relations of optimism with health: