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What is an Optimist?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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An optimist is a person who engages in positive thinking, or "looking on the bright side" of things. Optimism is the outlook that good things will happen, even if the situation may not appear totally positive at the moment. This is the opposite of a pessimist.

While a pessimist focuses on the negative aspects of a situation, the optimist focuses on the positive aspects. The half-empty/half-full glass is a classic example of the difference between optimism and pessimism. This person will see the glass as half-full as he or she will appreciate that there is still half a glass of something left. The pessimist, on the other hand, will see the same glass as half-empty, and will concentrate on what is missing or no longer in the glass.

Sir Winston Churchill was a self-described optimist. He said "For myself, I am an optimist — it does not seem to be much use being anything else." Positive thinkers tend to be more open to possibilities as, unlike pessimists, they tend to not discount something that may exist. Helen Keller is noted as saying that "No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land or opened a new doorway into the human spirit."

Such people have been criticized for putting so much of a positive spin on things, however, that they may be avoiding reality. They are often described with expressions such as "seeing the world through rose-colored glasses" or "having their head in the sand," since they may see something is positive, when perhaps it is not. Daniel J. Keardon is credited with the comment that "In the long run, the pessimist may be proved right, but the optimist has a better time on the trip."

Optimists are not usually passive in wanting situations to be the best they can be, but they are said to tend to take a proactive approach in making things better. Studies show that they have a lower risk for depression than pessimists and also tend to have better general health. They are also said to have better coping skills, as they tend to realize what they can control and what they can't in helping to make their lives more positive.

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Discussion Comments

By anon993137 — On Oct 25, 2015

I sort of think that all can be optimists if they choose to ignore the fact that bad things happen and there is no control over them. I myself am optimistic 24/7, 365. I never feel negative. It all depends on if you choose to be happy. There is no trick to it. You just smile and be happy. You can't take medicine to do this. You just do it.

By anon345911 — On Aug 23, 2013

I just want to think like an optimist all the time, but sometimes I have personal events when I start being pessimistic about everything specially around people I don't know. Then after that, my morale starts dropping too low. I try to start thinking positive again and give myself that boost of confidence again but when things don't go the way I thought they would or wanted them to, I unconsciously start going back to being a pessimist until I turn on the optimistic switch and give myself a boost. I hate the combination of these two because I get all confused sometimes and it drives me crazy!

By ddljohn — On May 14, 2011

I actually don't see optimism or pessimism as an all or nothing thing. I think each person goes through different stages in life that make them optimistic or pessimistic.

It's probably harder to be an optimist in this era because of the stress we deal with in our daily lives. But there are people who are able to manage it and still feel good about their lives and their future. I've also heard that optimists live longer. So there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic even though modern life has its challenges.

By turquoise — On May 13, 2011

I don't think that optimists are any less realistic than anyone else. I think they know what the reality is but they choose to see the good in something rather than the bad.

My best friend will always say that the glass is half empty. I noticed that when he talks about the past, it's usually negative things and bad events. An optimistic might experience the same exact things, but they will remember it as being good.

I completely agree with the article. Everyone might have the same destination, but it's the journey that matters. Might as well make it a fun and positive one!

By candyquilt — On May 13, 2011

My mom is definitely an optimist. In fact, I call her Pollyanna sometimes. Pollyanna was a girl in one of the first children's stories I heard. This girl always saw good in everything and everyone. She would show people around her how to see the world through her eyes and they would also start being optimistic and happy in the story.

I, on the other hand, am a born pessimist. The one big advantage that I think my mom has as an optimist is that she is able to overcome problems and disappointments more easily then me. I tend to worry a lot more and it takes me a really long time to get over a bad event. My mom seems to move on more quickly and easily.

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