Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Optimism and psychological well-being

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Optimism and psychological well-being:
How are optimism and psychological well-being related?

Overview[edit | edit source]

In studies of psychological well-being, researchers have found that people who suffer from mental illness tend to be pessimistic about themselves and their environment, while people who live long and happy lives tend to be optimistic[factual?]. This is an interesting finding[vague] . Why does optimism have such a strong correlation with people's psychological well-being? Since the rise and continuous development of positive psychology and the exploration of the human brain have made people understand optimism, a positive psychological trait, more deeply. So what does optimism have to do with people's psychological well-being? This chapter focuses on how optimism and psychological well-being are related and how we can improve our psychological well-being by using the key findings of this chapter.

Case study - Laura

Laura is a 20-year-old psychology student at the University of Canberra. She works part-time in an aquatic centre near the uni during the daytime as a swimming coach. She rented an apartment near the uni, and she enjoyed living alone and her job. Recently, her working hours have even been extended into the evening due to the warmer weather and a surge in registrations. However, Laura also had to deal with a lot of study tasks because her final exams were coming soon. Unfortunately, Laura's manager recently spoke to her and said that she was always distracted at work and that her job as a swimming coach requires a lot of concentration and caution. At the same time, the manager warned her that she would be fired if she could not concentrate. Laura felt devastated because she believed that her life would be ruined if she lost this job. She was so anxious that she could not even feel pleasant in her work and study.

Think Who_question_mark_75x75
  • Are you an optimist?
    Figure 1. Optimists will usually see the glass as half-full.
  • Looking at Figure 1, do you think the glass is half-full or half-empty?
  • Do you know how optimism relates to your psychological well-being?
  • Do you want to know how to improve your psychological well-being?

Yes check.svg Focus questions:

  • What are optimism and psychological well-being?
  • How are optimism and psychological well-being related?
  • How could we improve our psychological well-being?

Optimism[edit | edit source]

Optimism is thought to be a personality trait that a person possesses in order to view life and future events through a positive lens (Fasano et al., 2020). Moreover, optimism has been repeatedly shown to be associated with mental and physical health (Scheier & Carver, 1993). Despite optimism being influenced by genetic factors to some extent (Bates, 2015), it can also be learned (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2014).

Dispositional optimism[edit | edit source]

Dispositional optimism is rooted in the expectancy-incentive motive theories (Carver & Scheier, 2014). People who are dispositionally optimistic have higher self-esteem, better coping strategies in times of stress, and better problem-solving skills etc. (See figure 2.)

Figure 2. The benefits of being optimistic.

Psychological well-being[edit | edit source]

Psychological well-being is vital to one's personal growth and development. Adler et al., (2017, p. 118) suggested that psychological well-being "is simultaneously the absence of the crippling elements of the human experience – depression, anxiety, anger, fear – and the presence of enabling ones – positive emotions, meaning, healthy relationships, environmental mastery, engagement, self-actualisation". However, due to the subjectivity of psychological well-being, the measurement of psychological well-being relies more on the form of self-report.

Six-factor model of psychological well-being[edit | edit source]

Ryff (2014) proposed the Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being. Thus, the research in the field of psychological well-being has changed from reports of happiness, life satisfaction and positive affect to a deeper question - what are the main features of psychological well-being? Ryff (2014) suggested that psychological well-being mainly has the following dimensions:

  • The extent to which people think their lives are meaningful
  • Whether people think they live according to their personal beliefs
  • The extent to which people use their talents and potential
  • Whether people can think that they are in control of their own life situation
  • People's positive relationships with others
  • People's understanding and acceptance of themselves

Psychological disorders[edit | edit source]

In order to fully understand the concept of psychological well-being, we need to understand what problems can occur if people experience mentally unhealthy[grammar?].

The most common mental disorders are (DSM-5)[factual?]:


Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 Optimism is a positive way to view oneself and life events:


2 Optimist is the people who never face the stressful events[grammar?]:


How are optimism and psychological well-being related?[edit | edit source]

A growing body of evidence links positive personality traits such as optimism with people's psychological well-being, and current randomised trials have demonstrated that optimism can be learned (Kim et al., 2017). Therefore, if optimism is linked to broader psychological well-being, it could lead to new interventions that improve our psychological well-being and prolong life in the public. In this part, we evaluate the correlation between optimism and psychological well-being mainly through cognitive perspective, biological perspective and humanistic perspective.

The perspective of cognitive psychology[edit | edit source]

Optimism has been shown to be associated with higher levels of self-mastery (Andersson, 1996), greater ability to have resilience in stressful events (Nes et al., 2005), higher life satisfaction (Steele & Wade, 2004), lower perceived stress (Chang, 1998). Moreover, optimism had been shown that it was a predictor of psychological well-being among adolescents (Parveen et al., 2016).

One of the main research of cognitive psychology focuses on the way people perceive their world (Solso et al., 2005)[grammar?]. Therefore, this part mainly tries to understand the relationship between optimism and psychological well-being from three aspects: people's perception of stressful events, attributional style, and depressive symptoms.

Stress and depression[edit | edit source]

Optimism improves people's psychological well-being by reducing perceived stress and depression.

  • Stress (Chang, 1998).
    • Optimism significantly mitigated the effects of perceived stress on psychological well-being
    • The study found that optimism can be mediated in part by mediating the relationship between stress and psychological adaptive measures, as well as the relationship between life stress and overall life satisfaction. That is, optimism affects people's psychological well-being by regulating stress.
  • Depressive symptoms
    • A large randomized clinical trial of 127 patients with depression and multiple sclerosis showed that increased optimism had a significant effect on the improvement of depressive symptoms in patients with multiple sclerosis (Hart et al., 2008).
      • There was a significant negative correlation between optimism and depression.
      • Decreased depression symptoms were associated with increased benefit-finding over time.
      • The relationship between decreased depression symptoms and benefit-finding was significantly mediated by the increased optimism.
    • Optimism contributed to the satisfaction of life which was related to the decreasing of depressive symptoms (Steele & Wade, 2004).

Attributional Style[edit | edit source]

Dispositional optimism and pessimism reflect the way people interpret events, that attribution causes these traits (Cheng & Furnham, 2001).

  • Attributional style had been distinguished between three dimensions of event interpretation:
    • Internal: Whether the explanations are based on Internal or external reasons;
    • Stable: Whether the cause is regarded as stable or unstable;
    • Global: Explain whether it applies globally rather than to a specific situation.
  • Optimistic people attribute internal, stable, and global explanations to good things.
  • Attribution itself is a cognitive style, and people who tend to focus on global explanations do so for all types of events, and these styles are interrelated.

The perspective of biological psychology[edit | edit source]

The neural basis of optimism has been studied to explore how optimism improves psychological well-being by protecting a healthy brain and reducing anxiety (Wang et al., 2018). Whole‐brain correlation analyses were used for 231 adolescents with no history of psychiatric or neurological disorders after fMRI scanning. Wang et al. (2018) found[Explain these findings in simpler terms]:

  • The fractional amplitude of low‐frequency fluctuations and the resting‐state functional connectivity which related to anxiety[explain?]
  • The higher levels of trait optimism were[grammar?] linked with decreased fractional amplitude of low‐frequency fluctuations (fALFF) in the right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and increased resting‐state functional connectivity (RSFC) between the right OFC and left supplementary motor cortex (SMC).[explain?]

Meanwhile, fALFF and RSFC provided a brain‐personality‐symptom pathway for protection against anxiety in which fALFF and RSFC affect anxiety through trait optimism.

  • Trait optimism mediated the influence of the right OFC activity and the OFC‐SMC connectivity on anxiety (See figure 3.).
    • Anxiety was positively associated with the right OFC, while negatively correlated with the connectivity between right OFC and left SMC.
    • After the optimism trait variable was introduced, the right OFC was significantly negatively correlated with anxiety.
    • The connectivity between right OFC and left SMC showed a more downward trend in anxiety.
  • The association between optimistic traits and OFC-SMC connectivity may reflect the role of SMC in positive self-evaluation, future reward processing, emotional regulation, and physical activity, which may contribute to positive cognitive style in optimistic people.
Figure 3. The trait optimism is like a mediator between the brain and anxiety

There was another study on optimism bias (Phelps et al., 2007),[grammar?] it also showed how optimism and psychological well-being related.

  • Activity in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex was correlated with trait optimism.
  • The rostral anterior cingulate cortex which related to the area that involved monitoring our emotions.
  • The present study highlights how the brain generates a projection propensity to engage in positive future events, suggesting that effective integration and regulation of emotional and autobiographical information supports the projection of positive future events in healthy individuals and is associated with optimism. However, people tend to make overconfident, positive predictions about the future that are often inaccurate. Therefore, moderate optimism illusions could trigger adaptive behaviours for future goals in the present and were associated with people's psychological well-being.
  • Activity in the amygdala (regulate emotions; involved in reward processing) and rostral anterior cingulate cortex and its relation to optimism[explain?].
  • A strong correlation between activity in the rACC and activity in the amygdala bilaterally while imagining future positive events; this correlation was weaker and less extensive when imagining future negative events[explain?]

The perspective of positive psychology[edit | edit source]

Positive psychology is a shift from the traditional perspective of focusing on mental illness to fostering an optimistic attitude towards life, so as to improve people's psychological well-being. In short, positive psychology is essentially a shift in focus from focusing on the negative to focusing on the positive, much like optimism itself. So how does positive psychology explain the link between optimism and psychological well-being?

  • People with healthy self-perception, which is characterized by (Vázquez et al., 2009).
    • positive feelings about themselves.
    • feelings of self-control.
    • an optimistic view of the future.
  • These features could provide a reserve of resources and motivation to cope not only with everyday difficulties, but also those that are particularly stressful and even threatening to people's survival.


Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 When we talk about the attribution style, which is NOT the dimension of event interpretation:


2 Which of the following statement is correct:

Optimism has a significant negative correlation with our psychological well-being
Optimism is like a mediator between the brain and negative symptoms (ie. anxiety)
Psychological well-being cannot be affected by optimism

How can we improve our psychological well-being[edit | edit source]

Have you thought about the question at the beginning of the chapter? Do you, like Lauro[spelling?] in this case, have a pessimistic view of stressful events, even small negative emotions can make you feel like "it is the end of the world"? Please do not worry too much. Although we cannot avoid stressful events in our lives, we can improve our psychological well-being by learning to increase our optimism traits. So, with our understanding of optimistic traits from a physiological, cognitive, and positive psychological perspective, this section focuses on understanding what can help us improve our psychological well-being based on these findings.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)[edit | edit source]

CBT focuses on challenging and changing cognitive distortion. According to the principles of CBT, what can you do when you face difficulties and stress?

  • Challenge your negative thoughts.
  • Ask yourself positive questions.

Imagining a best possible self (BPS)[edit | edit source]

  • Best possible self (BPS) imagery [explain?] was positively correlated with increasing optimism (Meevissen et al., 2011).
    • By imagining your best self, positive future expectations would increase and negative expectations would decrease.
    • It should be noted that the effect on improving optimism was small to moderate.

By now, you might see optimism as a perfect trait. Or you might ask that is there any drawbacks of optimism? Yes, it has. Although the benefits of optimism are more than its drawbacks, understanding the drawbacks of optimism can give people a fuller picture of it.

  • Note that over-optimism breeds conceit[factual?].
  • Optimism does not lead to positive results under certain conditions, such as gambling (Gibson & Sanbonmatsu, 2004).
  • Optimism bias (Phelps et al., 2007) - Extreme optimism is pernicious because it leads to an underestimation of risk and poor planning.[Embed link(s) to related chapter(s)]

Case study - Laura

Laura eventually lost her job when her city went into lockdown as the result of Covid-19. Since the beginning of the new semester, all the units have been changed to online courses. The only activity Laura has is going to the nearby supermarket once a week. The economic and academic pressures, as well as the living environment brought by Covid made Laura feel overwhelmed. Laura used to wake up every morning full of anticipation of the new day. Now, she has lost interest in everything. She looked at herself in the mirror and felt very disappointed. She did not think she could get out of the situation because of the lockdown, and she also did not know how. Laura's midterm exam is coming soon. As someone who knows how optimism is related to our psychological well-being, do you have any advice for her?

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter focused on the question of how are optimism and psychological well-being related. In addition, explanations of concepts relevant to answering this question, such as the concepts of optimism and psychological well-being, as well as how we could apply the research findings on this question to improve our level of optimism and psychological well-being were also included in this chapter. Overall, there was a positive correlation between optimism and psychological well-being[How strong is this relationship?]. On the one hand, optimism affects people's psychological well-being by influencing people's cognitive processing. For example, research explained how optimism positively affects people's psychological well-being by affecting people's attributional style of coping with stressful events. Optimism, on the other hand, had a role in regulating neural mechanisms in the brain that deal with stress. In other words, optimism reduced anxiety and improved psychological well-being by mediating neural regions in the brain associated with anxiety. Finally, this chapter discusses ways to improve people's psychological well-being by improving their optimism. For example, the cognition-based approach reduces the impact of negative factors by asking yourself positive questions. But it's important to note that optimism isn't just a virtue. Neither excessive optimism nor situational optimism has a positive impact on our psychological well-being. So we need to be extra careful when improving our psychological well-being by increasing our levels of optimism.

Yes check.svg Take-home messages:

  • Optimism has a positive impact on improving people's psychological well-being.
  • Optimism improves our psychological well-being by regulating our attributional style in the face of stressful events.
  • Optimism could mediate the neural areas associated with anxiety by reducing our perception of it.
  • There are many methods you can use to increase your level of optimism. For example, challenge your negative thoughts, ask yourself more positive questions, and imagine a better version of yourself to boost your level of optimism.
  • Optimism is not always good for our psychological well-being. For example, over-optimism breeds self-conceit.

See also[edit | edit source]

[Use alphabetical order. Use bullet-points.]

Mental health (Wikipedia)

Pessimism (Wikipedia)

Optimism and pessimism (Book chapter, 2021)

Learned optimism (Book chapter, 2011)

Explanatory style (Wikipedia)

Optimism (Book chapter, 2013)

References[edit | edit source]

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Andersson, G. (1996). The benefits of optimism: A meta-analytic review of the life orientation test. Personality and Individual Differences, 21(5), 719–725.

Adler, A., Unanue, W., Osin, E., Ricard, M., Alkire, S., & Seligman, M. (2017). Psychological wellbeing. Happiness - transforming the development landscape (pp. 118-155). The Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH.

Bates, T. C. (2015). The glass is half full and half empty: A population-representative twin study testing if optimism and pessimism are distinct systems. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(6), 533-542.

Chang, E. C. (1998). Does dispositional optimism moderate the relation between perceived stress and psychological well-being?: A preliminary investigation. Personality and Individual Differences, 25(2), 233–240.

Cheng, H., & Furnham, A. (2001). Attributional style and personality as predictors of happiness and mental health. Journal of Happiness Studies, 2(3), 307–327.

Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2014). Dispositional optimism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18(6), 293–299.

Fasano, J., Shao, T., Huang, H., Kessler, A. J., Kolodka, O. P., & Shapiro, C. L. (2020). Optimism and coping: do they influence health outcomes in women with breast cancer? A systemic review and meta-analysis. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 183(3), 495–501.

Gibson, B., & Sanbonmatsu, D. M. (2004). Optimism, pessimism, and gambling: The downside of optimism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(2), 149-160.

Hart, S. L., Vella, L., & Mohr, D. C. (2008). Relationships among depressive symptoms, benefit-finding, optimism, and positive affect in multiple sclerosis patients after psychotherapy for depression. Health Psychology, 27(2), 230–238.

Kim, E. S., Hagan, K. A., Grodstein, F., DeMeo, D. L., De Vivo, I., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2017). Optimism and cause-specific mortality: A prospective cohort study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185(1), 21–29.

Meevissen, Y. M., Peters, M. L., & Alberts, H. J. E. (2011). Become more optimistic by imagining a best possible self: Effects of a two week intervention. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 42(3), 371–378.

Nes, L. S., Segerstrom, S. C., & Sephton, S. E. (2005). Engagement and Arousal: Optimism’s Effects During a Brief Stressor. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(1), 111–120.

Parveen, F., Maqbool, S., & Khan, S. M. (2016). Optimism as predictor of psychological well-being among adolescents. The International Journal of Indian Psychology, 3(4), 12-21.

Phelps, E. A., Sharot, T., Riccardi, A. M., & Raio, C. M. (2007). Neural mechanisms mediating optimism bias. Nature (London), 450(7166), 102–105.

Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Positive psychology: An introduction. In flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 279-298). Springer, Dordrecht.

Ryff, C. D. (2014). Psychological well-being revisited: Advances in the science and practice of eudaimonia. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 83(1), 10–28.

Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1993). On the power of positive thinking: The benefits of being optimistic. Current Directions in Psychological Science: A Journal of the American Psychological Society, 2(1), 26–30.

Steele, A., & Wade, T. D. (2004). The contribution of optimism and quality of life to depression in an acute coronary syndrome population. European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing : Journal of the Working Group on Cardiovascular Nursing of the European Society of Cardiology, 3(3), 231–237.

Solso, R. L., MacLin, M. K., & MacLin, O. H. (2005). Cognitive psychology. Pearson Education New Zealand.

Vázquez, C., Hervás, G., Rahona, J. J., & Gómez, D. (2009). Psychological well-being and health. Contributions of positive psychology. Annuary of Clinical and Health Psychology, 5(2009), 15-27.

Wang, S., Zhao, Y., Cheng, B., Wang, X., Yang, X., Chen, T., Suo, X., & Gong, Q. (2018). The optimistic brain: Trait optimism mediates the influence of resting‐state brain activity and connectivity on anxiety in late adolescence. Human Brain Mapping, 39(10), 3943–3955. https://doi.o

External links[edit | edit source]

[Use bullet-points.]

Emotion, stress, and health (Crash Course Psychology #26, YouTube)

How to train your brain to be more optimistic (