The Truth About Optimism: The Definition And Example

By Julia Thomas|Updated April 12, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Chante’ Gamby, LCSW

Everyone who embraces an optimistic mindset lives a charmed life, right? Maybe and maybe not. The truth is that optimism can be a mixed blessing. Certainly, optimism, trust, and self-confidence are components of good mental health. Are they the whole picture? Probably not. To understand how it helps, we must look closely at a complete optimism definition and how it's used.

Quotes On Optimism

How often do you open your social media page to find a glowing optimism meme? For most people, it's a daily occurrence. One would think that people go around being happy in every circumstance.

  • "Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise." ~Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
  • "Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see yourself running with them." ~Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • "What day is it?""It's today," squeaked Piglet.

    My favorite day," said Pooh." ~A.A. Milne

  • "Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely." ~Roy T. Bennet, The Light in the Heart
  • "The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true." ~James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion
  • "We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorns have roses." ~Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden
  • "Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • "Great things happen to those who don't stop believing, trying, learning, and being grateful." ~Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
  • "You'll never find a rainbow if you're looking down." ~Charlie Chaplain
  • "For myself, I am an optimist - it does not seem to be much use to be anything else." ~Winston Churchill
  • "Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence." ~Helen Keller

An optimistic attitude isn't always that easy to come by or completely benign, though, as you can see by some of what some would say are the more realistic quotations on optimism.

  • "The basis of optimism is pure terror." ~Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • "There's no harm in hoping for the best as long as you're prepared for the worst." ~Stephen King, Different Seasons
  • "I meant to write about death; only life came breaking in as usual." ~Virginia Woolf
  • "I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will." ~Antonio Gramsci, Gramsci's Prison Letters
  • "Optimism," said Cacambo, "What is that?" "Alas!" replied Candide, "It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst." ~Voltaire, Candide

What Is Optimism?

So, what does optimism mean? We speak of optimism as a virtue, but we may also use it in ironic phrases like "cruel optimism" and "blind optimism." How can cruelty and blindness be virtues? Before you consider the complexities of what optimism means, let's define optimism in the most literal way.

Optimism Definition

A simple and concise definition of optimism would go something like this: Optimism is a tendency of having hope and confidence about future outcomes.

In philosophy, optimism is a doctrine stating that this is the best of all possible worlds.

Synonyms For Optimism

Many optimism synonyms who the beauty of this attitude. These include: confidence, elation, enthusiasm, happiness, positiveness, sunniness, assurance, calmness, cheerfulness, encouragement, exhilaration, hopefulness, and looking on the bright side.

Sometimes, an optimism synonym reveals possible problems in being constantly optimistic. These include bullheadedness, idealism, and wearing rose-colored glasses.

Optimism Vs. Pessimism

Optimism and pessimism are two sides of the same coin. They're both attitudes or mindsets, but one is positive, while the other is negative.

A question everyone needs to answer for themselves is: Which is the better way for me to have the life I want? Optimism or Pessimism?

Some people find security in pessimism. They believe that pessimism is their safest bet. If the negative outcome they expect happens, they aren't surprised. They were right, so they feel justified in their choice of attitudes. If the bad outcome they predicted doesn't happen, they're pleasantly surprised. Either way, they feel like a winner.

Other people choose optimism because they believe it will make things happen the way they want them too. Sometimes, they do. When they get a negative outcome they didn't expect, they can sink into pessimism and even depression. However, those who maintain their optimistic attitude endure those same defeats and find a way to learn from them. With the information they've gained, they may go back and try again or apply their knowledge to a new endeavor.

Types Of Optimism

There are many ways to categorize optimism. Depending on the deeper optimism meaning you are thinking of, you might choose to see optimism in any of the following ways.

Dispositional Optimism

Dispositional optimism is an optimistic mindset. Not only do you have high expectations for one outcome, but you tend to see things optimistically generally. You're one of those people with a sunny disposition, who tends to see the positive in every person, place, or circumstance.

Blind Optimism

When you're blindly optimistic, you look on the bright side of life no matter what. You believe that what you want to happen will indeed happen, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. In fact, you tend to ignore information that might negatively impact the outcome.

Blind optimism can lead to success and fulfillment. Sometimes the force of will is so great that you create your positive outcome through positive thinking. However, blind optimism can also cause you to miss vital information that might change your decisions about how to make what you want to happen.

You might practice reckless optimism if you put yourself in dangerous situations or through your life savings into a risky investment. People who are addicted to gambling are often blindly optimistic. Those who commit crimes may be extremely optimistic that they won't be arrested.

If you feel blind optimism isn't working well for you, you can learn how to be more realistic. One of the most helpful mindsets can be realistic optimism, which is a way of looking at the authentic facts while maintaining a positive view of how the true possibilities will lead to success or fulfillment.

Cruel Optimism

Cruel optimism is having such a hopeful outlook in the face of an impossible situation that you're devastated when the inevitable bad outcome arrives. You might have cruel optimism yourself, optimism that makes you believe your wildest dreams will come true, even when rational thinking proves otherwise.

Or, someone who has control or influence in your life can have cruel optimism. If they make promises to you based on their unrealistic hopes, you may feel crushed when those outcomes don't happen the way they promised you they would.

Philosophical Optimism

Philosophical optimism looks at positivity on a grander scale. First explained by Leibniz, philosophical optimism is the doctrine that the universe tends toward improvement and that this is the best of all possible worlds. It's the belief that good will ultimately triumph over evil. When you follow the doctrine of philosophical optimism, you interpret your life regarding the part you've played in helping improve the world and help good triumph over evil, or not.

Pessimistic Optimism

A pessimistic optimist may hold negative views on the world. For instance, they might believe that the world is a bad place where bad things typically happen. They may not be cynical about everything. They may believe that, despite the prevalence of negative outcomes, one outcome will be more positive based on factual grounds.

Cautious Optimism

When you're cautiously optimistic, you believe that the best will happen. You don't give your whole heart to the endeavor. You understand that you might be wrong, so you watch and wait, hoping for the best. Often, this phrase is used in medical settings when someone has been hurt severely and gotten the best possible care. While everything possible has been done and come out well so far, you realize the gravity of the patient's condition and how much they had to overcome.

Learned Optimism

Learned optimism is simply optimism you gained by learning from others and the world around you. You may read self-help books on optimism. You may learn through trial-and-error that optimism is beneficial for you and then learn how it works by practicing it.

The most efficient way to gain learned optimism is to interact with someone who can teach you how to build it. Talking to a therapist can be extremely helpful in developing a more positive outlook.

What Is Optimism Bias?

Optimism bias is a thought pattern of believing that you're at less risk of negative than positive outcomes. Optimism bias may come partly from the environment you grew up in, but it also has a biological basis. Optimism bias happens in the amygdala and rostral anterior cingulate cortex of the brain. Those parts of the brain are activated to regulate emotional regulation. This helps us maintain our emotional equilibrium despite sometimes negative events.

What The World Gains From Optimism

Although blind optimism can lead to devastation, clearly a more realistic optimism produces many benefits for the world. The dreamers, those who share their ideas with others, and the people who get out and make things happen are all optimistic. They believe what they think or do matters, at least enough to keep doing those things.

Inventors are optimistic in that they keep trying until they find a solution to a problem. Anyone who learns a difficult skill has to be optimistic enough to believe they'll get better with practice. Artists have to be optimistic enough to believe that their expressions will matter to someone, even if only to them. While not everyone who accomplishes something has an optimistic disposition, they are at least optimistic that what they do will have an impact on the world.

Optimism In Science

The Earth Optimism Summit is a meeting where scientists get together to share success stories, discuss positive outcomes of research and compete to make the world better. The summit comes at a time when science is under attack by those who believe science and spirituality are incompatible. The summit's optimistic view that science can and is making the world better may ultimately help bring together the powerful forces of science and spirituality.

Optimism In Business

Optimism has a major impact on the success of businesses. When business owners feel confident that the economy will improve shortly, they may hire new people, raise salaries, and make investments for their future.

One measure of how positively small business owners see the future is the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index. The Small Business Optimism Index shows how positivity increases or decreases month by month in the small business arena. When the index is high, business owners are taking those positive steps to build their business.

What You Can Gain From Optimism

You don't have to be a scientist or a business owner to benefit from being more optimistic. Anyone can improve their life by being realistically optimistic. Some of the benefits of optimism include:

  • Optimistic people live longer, according to scientific research.
  • People who are more optimistic are happier.
  • It can help you persevere.
  • It promotes self-esteem and self-respect.
  • It helps you regulate your emotions.
  • You're more likely to be physically healthy.
  • Positivity improves your prognosis if you have a medical condition.
  • You're more proactive and productive.
  • You're mentally healthier.
  • You have peace of mind.
  • It improves your resilience to tragedy and trauma.
  • You welcome positive change.
  • You communicate better and have better relationships.

Developing Greater Optimism

This complete optimism definition may have you wondering, "How can I become more optimistic?"

Because optimism is a choice, you can decide you want to be more optimistic and make that change. To do it, you might have to change other thoughts that are fueling your current pessimism. A therapist can help you identify pessimistic thoughts and find the source of those thoughts. Then, they can help you evaluate the thoughts so you that you can decide whether to keep those thoughts in mind or choose other thoughts to replace them.

You can talk to a licensed counselor at to explore your current level of pessimism and develop the level of optimism that works for you. Once you get the mindset right, you'll be ready to act on your hopes to build your world in the best possible way!

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