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Optimism (from Latin : optimum , "the best") is a view of life in which the world or a thing is viewed from its best side; it generally denotes a cheerful, confident and life-affirming attitude as well as a confident attitude , determined by positive expectation, in view of a thing with regard to the future. It also describes a philosophical conception according to which the world is the best of all possible worlds, that everything in the world is good and reasonable or that it is developing for the better. The opposite view is pessimism .


Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz undertook a metaphysical justification of optimism in his “ Theodizee ”. He posited that God in his omnipotence and goodness "only the best of all possible worlds " created had, even if you can not call it good. The word “optimism” was coined later in relation to Leibniz. This form of optimism could not agree with Voltaire , among others , who polemicized against Leibniz under the impression of the earthquake in Lisbon (November 1, 1755) in the form of the novel Candide or Optimism . The term optimism does not come from Leibniz himself, but was used by Jesuit theologians to scoff at the "mathematician playing himself theologian". However, this pejorative coloring has been lost over time.

German idealism

The German idealism took in 1800 the metaphysical and optimistic thoughts again.

Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer , et al., Fundamentally dealt with the demand for the creation of an optimistic, ethical worldview . a. in his work decay and rebuilding of culture . Albert Schweitzer founds the necessity of an optimistic-ethical view of the world of culture on the basis of rationalism . According to Schweitzer, optimism provides “the confidence that the course of the world somehow has a spiritually meaningful goal and that the improvement of conditions in the world and society promotes the spiritual and moral perfection of the individual. From the ethical comes the ability to raise the purposeful attitudes necessary for the work on the world and society and to let all achievements work together towards the spiritual and moral perfection of the individual, which is the ultimate goal of culture . "

Ernst Bloch

In the middle of the 20th century Ernst Bloch put forward a Marxist theory of optimism - “despite all disappointments” - : the principle of hope . Bloch warned against untested optimism and instead spoke of an “optimism with a mourning ribbon”.

Optimism and disability

A special case among optimists are people who, due to external circumstances, seem to have no reason to be optimistic, such as B. physically or mentally handicapped people whose "disability" could not be remedied. The philosopher Martha Nussbaum ascribes the right to a good life to everyone and explicitly addresses “disabilities”. However, it neglects that people with disabilities can also be acting and performing subjects in a society. So there is a reason for optimism in the spirit of Albert Schweitzer . In practice, there is a great deal of evidence that people with disabilities can be optimistic and productive when given the opportunity. Modern technology (e.g. computers) in particular makes it possible for disabled people to make a productive contribution to social coexistence with appropriate support.



Optimism as an individual psychological difference has been outlined and operationalized by researchers in two main ways in the last few decades : as an “optimistic style of explanation” and as “dispositional optimism”.

The idea of ​​a stable explanatory style ( optimistic explanatory style ) was inspired by the phenomenon of learned helplessness . Above all, it goes back to Martin Seligman . People who do not become helpless after experiencing stress factors tend to use an optimistic style of explanation. They believe that previous bad events are not permanent and only apply to the current situation. As a style of explanation, optimism refers to the past.

Dispositional optimism understood as stable inclination or disposition ( dispositional optimism ) is a variable that differs between people and reflects the extent to which people generally have favorable expectations for their future. This perspective has also been referred to as "expectation optimism," as it classifies optimism as individual beliefs about the future rather than the past. It is also intended to emphasize that explanatory styles also represent stable dispositions / inclinations.

Research examining the relationship between dispositional optimism and optimistic explanatory style was inconsistent, with correlations varying between low and high.

As a third possibility, optimism can also be understood as area- and task-specific expectations of a person in the context of self-regulation. With this idea of ​​optimism, certain expectations are influenced by external and internal factors of the person. The expectations are not stable, but flexible and vary from situation to situation.


The tendency to optimism is measured with the Life Orientation Test (LOT) or the short version, the Life Orientation Test revised (LOT-R) .


One study examined innate and learned proportions of optimism using adopted and non-adopted twins . This suggests that optimism has a moderate heritability of 24%. Factors related to the family such as the home they live in, common neighborhood and parental behavior that affects all children (so-called shared environment) accounted for about 13%. The remaining shares were accounted for by individual environmental factors specific to the respective person and measurement errors .


As a predictor of behavior, optimism is important for understanding motivation and self-regulation . For example, optimistic expectations of a challenge or task lead to commitment and a continuous effort to achieve goals instead of giving up. Optimists are usually healthier than pessimists unless they are optimistic enough to get careless.

Optimism goes hand in hand with strategies for coping with stress that aim to eliminate, reduce or manage stress factors or emerging emotions. On the other hand, it is negatively related to avoidance strategies that aim to ignore, avoid, or withdraw from stressors or emotions.

The majority of people are not only optimistic but unrealistically optimistic: They expect to have more positive and less negative experiences than the average.

As an explanatory style

Martin Seligman examined the question of what distinguishes optimists from pessimists. He found that they have other attribution of causes to make, namely that optimists see the cause of pleasant events, successes, etc. stable in itself, however, attribute to aversive events temporary situational causes. With pessimists it is the other way around.

  • Durability. Pessimists consider the causes of unpleasant events they get caught up in to be permanent and permanent. Optimists, on the other hand, see the causes as temporary and temporary.
  • Scope. Pessimists translate failures they have to accept in a certain area into general, while optimists see other areas of their life unaffected by failure in a certain area.
  • Personalization. Pessimists blame themselves for failures, unpleasant events, etc. and are therefore more likely to have low self-esteem . Optimists, on the other hand, tend to seek the reasons for failure in other people or the circumstances and have a strong sense of self.

According to Seligman, an optimistic attitude towards life can be learned.

brain research

Magnetic resonance imaging studies showed that in optimists, in addition to three brain regions that store autobiographical knowledge, the amygdala and the cingulate gyrus are above average. In depression , a disruption of the neural pathways between the two areas found in the fMRI is suspected.

See also


  • Carver & Scheier: Optimism . In: Lopez & Snyder (eds.) Positive psychological assessment: A handbook of models and measures . American Psychological Association, Washington, DC 2003, pp. 75-89.
  • Carsten Dethlefs: Optimism for everyone - suggestions on how not to stay below your possibilities . Tredition, Hamburg 2014, ISBN 978-3-8495-7556-4 .
  • Martha Nussbaum : Aristotelian Social Democracy. In: R. Bruce Douglas, Gerald R. Mara, Henry S. Richardson (Eds.): Liberalism and the Good. New York / London 1990, pp. 203-252.
  • Sandra Richter : Praise of Optimism: History of an Art of Living . CH Beck Verlag, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-59114-3 .
  • Hannelore Weber , Thomas Rammsayer: Differential Psychology - Personality Research. Hogrefe, Göttingen [a. a.] 2012, ISBN 978-3-8017-2172-5 , pp. 88-97.

Web links

Wiktionary: Optimism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Albert Schweitzer, 'Decay and Reconstruction of Culture', p. 72.
  2. See Nussbaum, in: Douglass / Mara / Richardson, 1990, p. 220 f.
  3. See Dethlefs (2014), Optimismus für alle , pp. 1–10.
  4. a b c d e M.JC Forgeard, MEP Seligman: Seeing the glass half full: A review of the causes and consequences of optimism . In: Pratiques Psychologiques . tape 18 , no. 2 , 2012, p. 107–120 , doi : 10.1016 / j.prps.2012.02.002 ( elsevier.com [accessed October 23, 2019]).
  5. ^ Charles S. Carver, Michael F. Scheier, Suzanne C. Segerstrom: Optimism . In: Clinical Psychology Review . tape 30 , no. 7 , 2010, p. 879-889 , doi : 10.1016 / j.cpr.2010.01.006 , PMID 20170998 , PMC 4161121 (free full text) - ( elsevier.com [accessed October 25, 2019]).
  6. a b c d Armor & Taylor (1998), Situated optimism: Specific outcome expectancies and self-regulation . In: MP Zanna (ed.) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology , Vol. 30, San Diego: Academic Press, pp. 309-379.
  7. ^ A b Lise Solberg Nes, Suzanne C. Segerstrom: Dispositional Optimism and Coping: A Meta-Analytic Review . In: Personality and Social Psychology Review . tape 10 , no. 3 , 2006, ISSN  1088-8683 , p. 235-251 , doi : 10.1207 / s15327957pspr1003_3 ( sagepub.com [accessed October 22, 2019]).
  8. Robert Plomin, Michael F. Scheier, CS Bergeman, NL Pedersen, JR Nesselroade: Optimism, pessimism and mental health: A twin / adoption analysis . In: Personality and Individual Differences . tape 13 , no. 8 , 1992, pp. 921-930 , doi : 10.1016 / 0191-8869 (92) 90009-E ( elsevier.com [accessed October 22, 2019]).
  9. SC Segerstrom (2005), Optimism and immunity: Do positive thoughts always lead to positive effects? , Brain, Behavior and Immunity 19, pp. 195-200.
  10. ^ ND Weinstein (1980), Unrealistic optimism about future life events . Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39, pp. 806-820.
  11. Telepolis: The Sources of Confidence