Are Optimists true Realists?

 By Vrunda Chauk

Success requires persistence, the ability to not give up in the face of failure. I believe that optimistic explanatory style is the key to persistence.

-Martin Seligman

When we think about Optimists we mostly think about those who see the world through rose coloured glass. Those who always see rainbows and sunshine even when there is clearly a muddy puddle in front of you. Optimism, or the one that we will be talking about now is not unrealistic optimism (the misconception most people have). We will be talking here about realistic optimism.

Let's take an example - you lose your job. And you do not have much work experience. Your qualifications too are not that great. The unrealistic optimism here would be believing you will get an even better job in an even better city. Without even exploring hard or taking into account why you were removed in the first place.

Realistic Optimism here would be - Analyzing and accepting the situation. Understanding why you were fired and what can you do to become better at your craft. And then believing that it is not the end of the world and you can still get better jobs. It is knowing that if you put in hard work and efforts with sincerity, you will get what you deserve.

 So we are speaking about this second type of optimism here. You see optimists seem to have some superpowers that help them during difficulties.

They know from previous experiences that things do work out fine. That gives them more reason to believe that good things do happen. Due to this thinking - Optimists possess greater self-confidence and perseverance when faced with challenges. 

When optimists expect positive things to happen in future despite the adverse situations in front of them. The hope, the belief that things will get better not only puts them into a positive mood but also leads to better coping strategies concerning stress. Lisa Aspinwall conducted experiments and found that optimists are in fact true realists. She found that optimists are more willing than pessimists to receive negative feedback about their performance and to absorb bad news about their health and to raise difficult issues in their personal relationships.

According to her research "Realistic Optimism is an honest recognition that there may be opportunities for positive growth or learning experience in even the most difficult situations."

If we think about this logically makes complete sense doesn't it? Until and unless you truly believe that the future can be better you are not likely to make efforts towards it.

"Pessimistic labels lead to passivity, whereas optimistic ones lead to attempts to change"

-Martin Seligman

By this time, you're probably thinking "I wish I could be more optimistic…."

Well, the good news is - You Can!

Here are four simple steps that will help you think optimistically -

  1. When things do not go according to plan, pay attention to your immediate thoughts. Are you thinking - I can never do anything right?
  2. Try to dispute those thoughts by searching for alternative evidence. Try to find out evidence of your negative thoughts. Do NOT exaggerate. Think your friend is in the similar situation and try to find positive facts to cheer her up
  3. Accept the negative outcomes but think of their causes as temporary and external. "Oh, you didn't win the game, maybe it was because of the bad weather, you know you'll win next time." Not blaming something else to get your way but genuinely believing that this defeat was temporary, and you will do much better next time.Try to think of causes of positive outcomes as permanent and internal. "I won the game because of my hard work". You are not too self-centred or anything, just being honest.

The optimists and the pessimists: I have been studying them for the past twenty-five years. The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case. The optimists believe defeat is not their fault: Circumstances, bad luck, or other people brought it about. Such people are unfazed by defeat. Confronted by a bad situation, they perceive it as a challenge and try harder.

-Martin Seligman


Vrunda is a Positive Psychology Student, Researcher and a wannabe practitioner, based in Pune, India. She is reachable on