Posted by: magnussonllc | August 18, 2009

How to Improve Your Optimism

Optimism 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. Personal optimism correlates strongly with self-esteem, with psychological well-being and with physical and mental health.

According to psychologist Professor Ed Diener there is no one key to happiness but a set of ingredients that are vital. 

  • First, family and friends are crucial – the wider and deeper the relationships with those around you the better. Just as stress can trigger ill health, it is thought that friendship, optimism and happiness can have a protective effect.
  • The second vital ingredient is having meaning in life, a belief in something bigger than you – from religion, spirituality or a philosophy of life.
  • The third element is having goals embedded in your long term values that you’re working for, but also that you find enjoyable. We need to find fulfillment through having goals that are interesting to work on and which use our strengths and abilities.

For optimism to maximize our abilities and happiness, we have to take responsibility for our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. This world is full of possibility. We can achieve almost anything we can conceive. Yet we will move forward only by turning dreams into practical, rational, responsible thinking. This kind of thinking will naturally generate productive activity.


Dynamic Optimism

Source: More, Max, 1991

The twelve key characteristics of the dynamic optimist can be stated briefly but take practice and wisdom to implement consistently.

Interpreting Experience Positively

  1. Selective Focus: Emphasizing the enjoyable, constructive, open aspects of life.
  2. Refraining from Complaining: Avoiding pointless complaining and whining about one’s difficulties. Taking the world as it is and not complaining that life isn’t fair.
  3. Questioning Limits: A constructive skepticism that challenges the limiting beliefs held by ourselves, our associates, and our society. A fundamental creative openness to possibilities.
  4. Sense of Abundance: Feeling free to do what you want, rather than feeling compelled by circumstances or people. Recognizing the world to be full of opportunities. Being for things, not against things.
  5. Humor: Seeing one’s own shortcomings with a sense of humor. Allowing healthy, good-natured humor to reveal new perspectives and combat dogmatic thinking.

Influencing Outcomes Positively

  1. Rational: Using reason rather than being led by fears and desires. Objectively assessing situations and taking action based on understanding reality apart from our wishes.
  2. Self-Improving: Optimists see the self as a process and seek continual improvement. Their drive to improve is not pushed by fear but pulled by an inspiring self-image.
  3. Experimental: Frequently trying fresh approaches, staying out of ruts, actively seeking more effective ways of achieving goals, and being willing to take calculated risks.
  4. Self-Confident: Believing that we can bring about good things. A fundamental conviction of competence in living.
  5. Self-Worth: Believing one is worthy of success and happiness. Without this, attempts to improve one’s life will lack motivation.
  6. Personal Responsibility: Taking charge and creating the conditions for success. Being aware of how we determine our chances of success. This crucially involves integrity: living according to one’s values.
  7. Selecting Environment: Being attracted to positive people and situations. Seeking out those who will support and inspire, not discourage, distract, and undermine.

These twelve characteristics of effective optimists give us specific ways of turning the abstract idea of dynamic optimism into actions. Developing and strengthening this dynamic, practical optimism is one of the most effective ways of adding to our personal power. A thorough-going dynamic optimist cannot be stopped. He cannot be pushed aside, blocked out, or shut down. He will respond to all obstacles, all attacks, and all setbacks with calmness, determination, and a creative, problem-solving attitude. Optimism and pessimism affect our entire worldview. Our whole approach to living will be either empowered or chained depending on which style of thinking predominates. The principles of dynamic optimism provide keys for unlocking our full potential.

Optimistic ThinkingOptimism1

Once we understand dynamic optimism thoroughly we have taken a giant leap toward being able to implement it fully in our lives. Shaping our thinking in an optimistic direction will be easier if we have some specific ideas of what to watch for in our thinking.


When the optimist has been frustrated by obstacles to their goals, they react appropriately: They inspect the obstacle and see it for what it is, and then consider how to remove it. The pessimist, especially if depressed, does the opposite. The optimist refrains from over-generalizing. Effective thinkers look at the frustrating situation as a particular event. That event need not represent any pattern; it can lead to very different future events if treated as a learning experience. The optimistic response to a bad experience is to look at it as a particular event, not an omen of perpetual failure, and to learn from it in order to correct course and home in on the desired goal.

Emphasize the Positive

Depression-prone individuals usually suffer from anhedonia—the inability to enjoy anything. One cause of this is their tendency to disqualify their positive experiences. Even non-depressive, hard-driven Type A personalities can fall into this trap. When this becomes a pattern, we deplete our motivation and darken our view of the world. Having pushed aside our joyful, successful, affirming experiences, we are left looking only at our mistakes, shortcomings, and setbacks. Even if someone has enough motivation or self-discipline to keep accomplishing things despite disqualifying the positive, he will derive little pleasure from his successes. If our goal is to both move forward in our lives and enjoy doing so, we need to affirm our positive experiences.

The optimist celebrates both their own and other people’s successes, enjoys each victory and advance, and appreciates what they have earned. While the optimist looks forward to tackling new responsibilities and to moving on to fresh goals after achieving old ones, they do not forget to appreciate the efforts that got them where they are.

 Set Realistic Goals and Standards

The tendency to disqualify the positive often festers side by side with the vice of perfectionism. Optimism has nothing to do with wanting to be perfect. It involves a confident drive to continually improve oneself and one’s circumstances. But not only does continual improvement not require perfection, it is not even compatible with it. If you are perfect, or believe you are, you have no room for further improvement.

 Keep Events in Perspective

The old cliché about making mountains out of molehills arose from someone noticing how some of us like to turn small annoyances and frustrations into world-shaking (or at least life-threatening) catastrophes. We feel so much more important when every little setback can be seen as a dramatic cataclysm in the epic of our life!  We look at negative events in such a way as to blow them up in size and importance. The dynamic optimist, being aware of this seductive tendency to catastrophize, strives to keep events in proportion. Letting one’s destructive emotions run wild may feel easy. In addition, we may believe that we can get what we want more effectively by exaggerating our hurt. Indeed this can be an effective short-term method of manipulating others, but not a healthy or effective long-term approach. It will lead to a loss of respect from others, avoidance of involvement in our little dramas, and distract us from directly and rationally confronting obstacles.



  1. Great site…keep up the good work.

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