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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Optimism is "an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome".[1] It is the philosophical opposite of pessimism. Optimists generally believe that people and events are inherently good, so that most situations work out in the end for the best.

Alternatively, some optimists believe that regardless of the external world or situation, one should choose to feel good about it and make the most of it. This kind of optimism doesn't say anything about the quality of the external world; it's an internal optimism about one's own feelings.

A common conundrum illustrates optimism-versus-pessimism with the question, does one regard a given glass of water, filled to half its capacity, as half full or as half empty? Conventional wisdom expects optimists to reply, "Half full," and pessimists to respond, "Half empty" (assuming that "full" is considered good, and "empty", bad).

Psychology

Overoptimism, naive optimism or strong optimism, is the overarching mental state wherein people believe that things are more likely to go well for them than go badly. Compare this with the valence effect of prediction, a tendency for people to overestimate the likelihood of good things happening rather than bad things.

Optimism bias is the demonstrated systematic tendency for people to be over-optimistic about the outcome of planned actions.

Personal optimism correlates strongly with self-esteem, with psychological well-being and with physical and mental health.[2] Optimism has been shown to be correlated with better immune systems in healthy people who have been subjected to stress.[3]Martin Seligman, in researching this area, criticizes academics for focusing too much on causes for pessimism and not enough on optimism. He states that in the last three decades of the 20th century journals published 46,000 psychological papers on depression and only 400 on joy.

Popular culture has reflected the link between optimism and well-being with works like the fable "The Moth and the Star", and Barack Obama's speech and book, The Audacity of Hope.

Ideologically convinced optimists may defend failures in their hoped-for outcomes by discussing "misplaced optimism" rather than abandoning optimism altogether.

A number of scholars have suggested that, although optimism and pessimism might seem like opposites, in psychological terms they do not function in this way. Having more of one does not mean you have less of the other. The factors that reduce one do not necessarily increase the other. On many occasions in life we need both in equal supply. Antonio Gramsci famously called for "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will": the one the spur to action, the other the resilience to believe that such action will result in meaningful change even in the face of adversity.

Hope can become a force for social change when it combines optimism and pessimism in healthy proportions. John Braithwaite, an academic at the Australian National University, suggests that in modern society we undervalue hope because we wrongly think of it as a choice between hopefulness and naïveté as opposed to skepticism and realism.

See also

References

  1. ^ "optimism - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". www.merriam-webster.com. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/optimism. Retrieved 2009-03-20.  
  2. ^ Scheier, Michael E; Carver, Charles S. (1986-06). "Dispositional Optimism and Physical Well-Being: The Influence of Generalized Outcome Expectancies on Health". Journal of Personality 55 (2): 165–210. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1987.tb00434.x. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1987.tb00434.x. Retrieved 2008-01-22.  
  3. ^ Segerstrom, Suzanne C., Shelley E. Taylor, Margaret E. Kemeny, and John L. Fahey. 'Optimism is Associated With Mood, Coping, and Immune Change in Response to Stress'. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 74, No. 6.
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