Realistic optimism

There is some fairly robust research out there in the emerging science of happiness that suggests the happiest and indeed most successful people in life tend to be what Sandra Schneider, a researcher at the University of South Florida calls, realistic optimists.  Schneider defines realistic optimism as the tendency to select positive interpretations whenever one has interpretational latitude.  This decision is part of one’s explanatory style, which is the cognitive mechanism one uses to decipher events.

Notice that realistic optimists are deciding how they will interpret events when they have some latitude.  There are some situations that deserve a pessimistic interpretation because they are what they are.  Realistic optimists are not by definition, pie in the sky optimists who see the world through rose colored glasses.  But when there is some wiggle room they choose to put a positive spin on things.

The good news is that people can learn how to become realistic optimists even if they tend temperamentally toward a pessimist explanatory style.  This is a big part of what happiness coaches do, using various cognitive and other methods to train clients to use more cognitive flexibility and discipline.  It takes some time and some work but it is possible to grow your realistic optimism potential.

There are lots of interesting and helpful sites on the internet that you can visit if you would like to learn more about realistic optimism and positive psychology.  You might want to start here.  Positive psychology is a burgeoning movement that, instead of focusing on fixing people as psychotherapy traditionally has done, helps people build from their existing strengths in order to discover more fulfilling ways of being.


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