What is “Learned Optimism”?

In a nutshell, learned optimism is a concept that says we can change our attitude and behaviours towards different things in life by recognizing and challenging our negative self-talk.

But firstly, what is optimism? Carver et al. (2010, p. 879) defined optimism as the degree to which we have a positive expectation about our future.

Seligman (2007) says that the basis of optimism does not lie in positive phrases or images of victory but in the way you think about things that are about to occur in your life. In other words, what you tell yourself (explain) about circumstances will decide whether you view life optimistically or pessimistically.

There has been much research that confirms the many benefits of optimistic thinking. Some of them are:

Improved health optimistic individuals tend to be more aware of their health status and how to stay healthy. Optimists may also take a more approach-focused method of dealing with health stressors. Rather than avoiding, ignoring, or withdrawing from a health concern, optimistic people are more inclined to seek practical support, modify their thinking, or reinterpret the situation positively (Solberg Nes & Segerstrom, 2006).

Motivation and performance: At work, optimism has been linked to intrinsic motivation to work harder, endure during stressful circumstances, and show more goal-focused behaviour (Luthans, 2003). As an essential contributor to employees’ wellbeing, it has been linked to improved overall happiness in the workplace, task orientation, solution-focused approaches, perseverance, and better decision making (Strutton & Lumpkin, 1992).

Career success: Career optimism has been linked with personal career success, job satisfaction, and the external marketability of candidates (Spurk et al., 2015). It has even been linked with higher career adaptability, “a set of attitudes, competencies, and behaviours that individuals use in fitting themselves to work that suits them” (Savickas, 2013, p. 45).

With so many promising findings, it’s encouraging that optimism can be learned. Next time we’ll get started on the ‘how-tos’ of our optimism journey.