Optimism & optimistic explanatory style

Optimism optimistic explanatory style

Bear with me for a minute, because I’m going to dig into some semantics today. Sometimes we can get pretty used to using certain words interchangeably; “cool,” “neat,” “awesome” kind of all mean the same thing in response to something, well, cool. And often that’s alright—our language allows for flexibility and fluidity. But today, let’s dig into some nuance with the word “optimism.”


A good, working dictionary definition of “optimism” might be Oxford’s definition of: “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.” Synonyms or alternatives you might use for “optimism” might include “confidence,” “certainty,” “assuredness.” But there’s an important distinction between those words and the version of “optimism” we find within Positive Psychology, because there’s often a sense of naiveté associated with the general understanding of optimism.


But in Positive Psychology, we seek out and foster optimism as a helpful tool for a positive outlook. And this kind of optimism? The research shows that it yields a whole lot of goodness like:


“positive mood and good morale, perseverance and effective problem solving, to achievement in a variety of domains, to popularity, to good health, and even to long life and freedom from trauma.” -C. Peterson


In short, optimism can be a useful tool for cultivating resilience and can help us achieve that sense of flourishing we discussed yesterday.


And a piece of Positive Psychology that we can tune into today is called “optimistic explanatory style.” Explanatory style is essentially the way we usually explain how things have happened to us, are happening to us, will happen to us. Think about it—the last time you told a story, that story took on a certain “explanatory style.” Maybe you were… dramatic, or enthusiastic, or hesitant, or disconnected. We often have a certain default tone when we’re explaining something. But when we explain something with an “optimistic explanatory style,” this is one way to begin cultivating optimism into our lives.