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Well-being series: The many dimensions of an optimist (Optimism part 4)

Updated: Jun 3, 2019

This is a continuation of my series of posts on Optimism - you can find part 1 here.

To understand more about my explanatory style, I took the Seligman’s Optimism Test (2003). Below is a summary of my results:

  • The results suggest that both my pessimistic (red columns) and optimistic (green) style attributions are above average – confirming my view that I apply meaning to events and perhaps personalise them regardless of their context.

  • Interestingly I scored higher on the pervasiveness of good events than of bad events – I take things that happen to heart and use them as a benchmark of how I feel about myself

  • I am not as pessimistic as I thought I was; my overall Hope score was 2 (out of a scale of -16 to 16) which means I am moderately hopeful person which is encouraging.

  • Fundamentally I believe my approach to catastrophizing bad events (internalizing them and considering them to have permanent and pervasive consequences) does seems to be limiting my Hope score

Perhaps these results confirm that I could really benefit from focusing on more optimistic style explanations. But could I become an optimist?

Apparently is it possible for a pessimist to become an optimist but some pretty big roadblocks lie in fully challenging both cognition and behaviour to ensure you put in sustained effort, something it seems that is inherently against the nature of a pessimist in the face of setbacks.

Some days this week I found forward thinking optimism a real challenge. It was timely that I had recently learned about explanatory styles given I soon had real life scenarios on which to apply this. I had fallen out with a good friend and was struggling to see her point of view and come to terms with my own emotions.

When trying to apply the optimistic explanatory style I found it difficult to articulate exactly how to attribute the falling out to something specific as opposed it to having universal significance. I also found it difficult to consider the consequences anything less than permanent and I definitely internalized the disagreement, meaning it was affecting me on quite a deep level.

As per my results on the Optimism test, it does seem that I treat both good and bad events as having permanent and universal causes and personalise both. Indeed, when evaluating good events, I found it comparatively easy to internalise the positives. According to Seligman this fits with the profile of someone who is depressed and perhaps this reflects some benefits of depressive realism. Here’s hoping.

This exercise, although difficult, was useful. It has highlighted that my approach makes me ultra-sensitive to and dependent on the external world for validation. This can leave little room for trust in my own judgment, but I believe that with continued effort I can work on this.

I am finding that forward thinking optimism in combination with a weekly approach to challenging my pessimistic explanatory style when things don’t go as planned, is having a mixed effect on my well-being but may be helping me cope with tricky situations.

Coming soon….would I recommend practicing optimism?


Carver, C.S., Scheier, M.F., Miller, C.J., & Fulford, D. (2009). Optimism. In Lopez, S. J., & Snyder, C. R. (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of positive psychology (pp. 303-312). New York: Oxford University Press.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2003). Authentic Happiness. London: Nicholas Brearley Publishing.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned Optimism. New York: Random House, Inc.

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