Thursday, October 8, 2015

Can you be positive without being an optimist?

The question is:
Is it possible to act in a positive manner without necessarily being an optimist?
At work today, we were talking about people who act positively and how it is really nice to interact with those who are positive throughout daily interactions. People who are positive seem to respond politely, smile more and are a lot calmer than those who do not display positive traits. We mentioned that working with positive people is really a joy. And then we wondered: are positive people necessarily optimists, or can a person be positive without being an optimist?

To be an optimist, a person should display traits of optimism. Optimists  have expectations that the results from their actions and thoughts will produce a positive outcome (Sheeler and Carver, 1985 as cited by Jackson, 2002). A dictionary defines optimists as being people who have the traits of optimism which is defined as follows on
  1. a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.
  2. the belief that good ultimately predominates over evil in the world.
  3. the belief that goodness pervades reality. 
  4. the doctrine that the existing world is the best of all possible worlds. 


Because an optimist expects that their actions will produce positive outcomes and that in the end, "positive" results will trump "negative" results, they may or may not act in a positive manner. They may do things that are "good" or that seem "favorable" to them, but I can't see that all things that are "good" or "favorable" might be necessarily "positive." Jackson (2002) finds that those who conduct actions with positive outcomes in mind are often more successful and satisfied with their actions. Jackson sees this type of personal positivity as being optimistic.

If positivism is a trait that means being pleasant and friendly, then certainly a pessimist can act in a positive manner. However, I still wonder if more optimists are positively pleasant?

Jackson, T. (2002). Perceptions of Goal-Directed Activities of Optimists and Pessimists: A Personal Projects Analysis.Journal Of Psychology, 136(5), 521.

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