Dispositional optimism can be defined as an expectation that more good and desirable things will happen than bad things will happen to us in the future (Scheier and Carver, 1985). This is an expectation that can also be a part of someone’s personality trait, as there are some people who are inherently more optimistic than pessimistic (Peterson, 2000).
Have you ever had thoughts such as “Diets never work” or “I’m stupid” cross your mind? Have you ever felt like today will be one of those days where everything will work against you? How do these statements make you feel? Do you agree or disagree?
If you nodded your head more often than not, then, unfortunately, welcome to the pessimistic world: where people believe that bad things happen to them regardless if they try.
As you may know, this is the opposite side of optimism; the bright and full-of-fortune one. Before we make an unfair judgment to jump to the conclusions about which one is good and which one is bad, let’s go through it together.
This article contains:
Characteristics of Optimism VS Pessimism
The main distinction between optimism and pessimism has to do with the way of thinking; one has an expectation for good while the other expects bad things to happen. As Martin Seligman (Seligman, 2011) stated, pessimistic people “tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do and are their own fault.”
On the contrary, for optimistic people, “They think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to one case. The optimists believe defeat is not their fault: Circumstances, bad luck, or other people bring it about.
Such people are unfazed by defeat. Confronted by a bad situation, they perceive it as a challenge and try harder. In addition, in terms of challenges, optimistic people are confident and persistent regardless of difficulties or the slowness of progress while pessimistic people are full of doubts and hesitance (Carver, 2001).
Many scales have been created to measure optimism. These are Life Orientation Test Revised or (LOT-R), Generalized Expectancy of Success Scale Revised (GESS-R), Optimism-Pessimism Scale, and Attributional Style (Carver, n.d.). The last one is an explanatory style which consists of three viewpoints; Permanence: things will always go bad, pervasiveness: attribute the outcome as universal or specific, Personalization: Internal or External about self-esteem (Seligman, 2011)
- Related: The PERMA Model: A Scientific Theory of Happiness
The Effect of Optimism VS Pessimism
There are many studies that show the effect of how thinking optimistically or pessimistically creates the impacts on your life. According to Martin Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism, pessimism increases depression, anxiety, failure, poor health, and it worsens feelings no matter the outcome is (Seligman, 2011).
In contrast, based on studies such as, “Dispositional Optimism and Stress-Induced Changes in Immunity and Negative Mood“, optimism is found to be “protective for physical and mental health by counteracting stress-induced increases in inflammation and boosting the adjuvant effects of acute stress (Brydon et al., 2009).”
Studies also found that optimistic people do better in relationships and problem-solving. Moreover, being optimistic could increase the rate of success in your life because that confidence about life success will motivate you to continue putting the effort in (Carver & Scheier, 2014). Thus, the harder you try the more successful you become.
Often one of the criticisms that optimistic people hear is that they are too naive and overestimate their efforts. Yes, life is a challenge. You could not positively hope that you won’t die if you jump off the building at a height of 500 meters. In fact, that is what is called unrealistic optimism: “the tendency to view oneself as less likely than others to experience bad outcomes (Tennen & Affleck, 1987)”. However, the more general and realistic type of optimism is Dispositional Optimism. By definition it is
“conceptualized as a stable, trait-like personality characteristic comprised of a general, positive mood or attitude about the future and a tendency to anticipate a favorable outcome to life situations, where as dispositional pessimism is classified as a general, negative expectation for the future (Hirsch et al., 2007).”
In many ways, dispositional optimism, personal control, and self-efficacy are related to each other. However, the difference is the agent. People who have high Self-efficacy and personal control view their effort as a determinant of the outcome (Schwarzer & Luszczynska, 2003). People with high self-efficacy and self-control think that the outcome is dependent on their abilities, their potential, and their behavior. However, the dispositional optimism view is more broad, seeing any factor taking places as an indicator of a good future outcome (Carver, 2001).
Let Optimism Help You Flourish
I don’t believe that we should turn ourselves into “happy-go-lucky” people. Just because you are optimistic doesn’t mean that you have no feelings towards bad things that happen. The human being is not a robot. The bad things that occur in our life sometimes teach us a very good lesson and as a consequence, we flourish.
Having an optimistic attitude not only increases your well being, performance, and success, but it also gives you the skills of resilience, which really prepares you for a life that is constantly changing and throwing curve balls at you. As Seligman said, “an optimist may get upset about this particular event but recognizes that its effects are limited and they do not allow it to impact on other areas (Seligman, 2011)”.
He also suggests that there are some situations that you should not be optimistic, such as:
- Making goals for a risky or uncertain future
- Wanting to be seen as sympathetic to people’s problems but instead acting cheerful the whole time
- Trying to advise someone with a dim future by having an optimistic attitude.
It will be seen as though you are not taking their feelings seriously (Seligman, 2011). There are two roads that you can aim to walk on every day: a dark road filled with stress, hopelessness, and anxiety or a road that with each hurdle brings you closer to wisdom, success, and health. The choice is yours.
Brydon, L., Walker, C., Wawrzyniak, A. J., Chart, H., & Steptoe, A. (2009). Dispositional optimism and stress-induced changes in immunity and negative mood. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 23(6), 810-816.
Carver, C.S. (2001) Dispositional Optimism. Retrieved from http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/Brp/constructs/dispositional_optimism/index.html.
Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2014). Dispositional optimism. Trends in cognitive sciences, 18(6), 293-299.
Hirsch, J. K., Wolford, K., LaLonde, S. M., Brunk, L., & Morris, A. P. (2007). Dispositional optimism as a moderator of the relationship between negative life events and suicide ideation and attempts. Cognitive Therapy and Research,31(4), 533-546.
Schwarzer, R. & Luszczynska, A. (2003) Self Efficacy. Retrieved from http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/Brp/constructs/dispositional_optimism/do2.html
Seligman, M. E. (2011). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. United States: Vintage Books.
Tennen, H., & Affleck, G. (1987). The costs and benefits of optimistic explanations and dispositional optimism. Journal of Personality, 55(2), 377-393.