Being optimistic is looking on the bright side of life or ‘seeing the glass as half full’. An optimistic outlook is about expecting things to be well and to go well for you. It is also about believing that you can help bring about positive change in your life and in the world.
As a comparison, being pessimistic is seeing things in a negative light or ‘seeing the glass as half empty’. It means expecting things not to be well or to go well for you.
Optimism and pessimism are simply different habits of thinking that we learn when we are young.
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, but an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
You may have a tendency to be more optimistic or more pessimistic - but these ways of thinking are not fixed. Many people tend to over-exaggerate negative aspects of themselves, leading to pessimistic thinking. By being more aware of your thoughts and by attempting to be more realistic with yourself about why negative things happened to you, you can become more optimistic.
You can help children and young people become more optimistic by the way you act yourself and by the way you encourage and interact with them. Optimism is a skill that children and young people can learn and the more optimism is practised, the more of a habit it becomes.
Research shows that people who have a generally optimistic outlook will persevere when in difficulty, are high achievers, are highly motivated, have positive moods and have a greater sense of control over their lives. They also tend to have good relationships and good health. In other words, having an optimistic outlook helps you to flourish.
Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.
People who have a generally pessimistic outlook, on the other hand, are more likely to become depressed or anxious, achieve less than their potential and have a higher risk of health problems. They may have a tendency to give up when things get difficult and to feel they can’t cope. Sometimes it will take them quite a long time to recover from a setback.
Did you know?
People are naturally drawn towards those who think optimistically. This is because optimistic people are good at inspiring and motivating others and they give others a sense of hope for the future.
Sara, H. (2009). Optimistic carers and children: Pathways to confidence and wellbeing. Research in Practice series, Early Childhood Australia Inc, 16(3).
Children and young people who are generally optimistic or pessimistic have different ways of explaining the events of their lives to themselves - they talk to themselves in different ways:
It is important to note that optimism needs to be realistic. People who are not realistically optimistic may not have realistic expectations about the possibility of bad things happening and may be caught unprepared when they do. For example, it would not be safe for you to jump into deep water and just be optimistic that you could swim, if you’d never actually learned to swim!
If we are realistically optimistic, we make a realistic assessment of risks and our abilities, and we take responsibility for our own actions. Optimistic people know that life is not always rosy. But they know they can cope with difficult events and that they will pass. They make plans to help them cope and ask others for help.
Here's an activity to help children and young people develop optimistic thinking:
Optimism is a positive attitude that helps protect our minds, bodies and relationships. Making Happy Shields can help children and young people identify their happy thoughts, encouraging memories and inspiring hopes.
What you need:
What you do:
Some things to talk about together: