What is Learned Optimism?

Learned optimism is a term used to describe the ability to remain positive and hopeful despite life’s adversities. It is based on the premise that our beliefs and thoughts about ourselves and the events, people, and circumstances around us can significantly impact our overall well being and outlook on life. Indeed, research has demonstrated that those with “learned optimism” are more likely to experience increased happiness, better physical health, and greater success in terms of their career and personal relationships.

The concept of learned optimism was first introduced by psychologist Martin Seligman in 1990, in his book, “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.” According to Seligman, those who practice “learned optimism” have an ability to look at the world in an optimistic manner, reframing how they interpret events and viewing challenges and setbacks as opportunities for personal growth and development. As such, this article provides an overview of what learned optimism is and how it can be cultivated and applied in different life areas. Click Here

The Fundamentals of Learned Optimism

At core, learned optimism is about maintaining an expectation of success, rather than failure, in order to achieve a sense of well being and satisfaction in life. Seligman identifies three core dimensions that shape our levels of optimism: explanatory style, permanence, and pervasiveness.

The Three Dimensions of Learned Optimism

Explanatory Style: This refers to the way we explain the events that we encounter in life. Those with a more optimistic explanatory style tend to attribute events to external factors (e.g., luck) rather than internal ones (e.g., lack of intelligence or ability). They also focus more on temporary causes (e.g., lack of resources or support) as opposed to permanent ones (e.g., lack of capability). As such, this gives them the ability to modify their approach to future tasks and challenges.

Permanence: This refers to our beliefs about the nature of events and the effects they will have on our lives. People with a more optimistic outlook tend to view events as temporary and not permanent in nature, believing that any set-backs they experience will ultimately pass.

Pervasiveness: This refers to the extent to which we believe that the events we experience will impact our lives. An optimistic outlook would lead one to believe that challenging circumstances will only affect a small part of their life as opposed to having wider and long-lasting consequences.

The Benefits of Learned Optimism

Given its focus on maintaining an expectation of success, learned optimism provides numerous benefits for those who practice it. These include: improved psychological well being, heightened resilience in the face of adversity, greater overall life satisfaction, and higher levels of success in terms of personal relationships and career advancement.

Cultivating Learned Optimism: Practical Strategies

When it comes to developing and strengthening the practice of learned optimism, there are several key strategies that can be employed. These include: identifying negative thought patterns, challenging negative beliefs, cultivating positive self-talk, seeking social support, practicing gratitude and mindfulness, and applying learned optimism in different life areas.

Identifying Negative Thought Patterns

The first step towards developing learned optimism is to become aware of the negative thought patterns that hold us back. This involves understanding how we think about, and react to, different situations and challenges. Doing this can help us to identify the self-defeating patterns in our thinking, enabling us to replace these with more adaptive and positive approaches.

Challenging Negative Beliefs

Once we become aware of our negative thought patterns, the next step is to challenge these beliefs. This involves questioning the actual accuracy of our beliefs, or looking for other perspectives that may exist. For instance, if you believe that you are unable to achieve success, you could ask yourself if this statement is actually true. Doing this can help to shift our perspective and strengthen our self-belief.

Cultivating Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk is an essential part of developing and maintaining an optimistic outlook on life. This involves speaking kindly to ourselves and avoiding any language that could undermine our self-esteem and confidence. Additionally, it means reframing our thoughts in terms of what we can learn from situations and what we can do to move forward.

Seeking Social Support

Having strong social support networks is an important aspect of cultivating learned optimism. Research has shown that having strong relationships with friends, family, and colleagues can provide us with the encouragement we need to tackle life’s challenges and strive towards our goals. Additionally, having a supportive network of people around us can also provide us with important emotional resources when times are tough.

Practicing Gratitude and Mindfulness

Practicing gratitude and mindfulness can help to foster a more optimistic outlook on life. When we take the time to appreciate the small things in life, it helps to shift our focus away from the negative and onto the positive. Mindfulness can also be beneficial for managing our emotions and our reactions to different events.

Applying Learned Optimism in Different Life Areas

Once you have cultivated a more optimistic outlook on life, the next step is to apply it in different life areas. Here, it can be helpful to have an overarching goal that you are aiming towards, such as personal growth or achieving greater success in your career. From here, you can then start to identify the specific steps needed to get there.

Personal Relationships

When it comes to personal relationships, the practice of learned optimism can be invaluable. This involves being mindful of how we interact with others, focusing on building strong connections, and maintaining a supportive attitude. Additionally, it can also involve learning how to forgive yourself and others, recognizing our own limitations, and recognizing the strengths and potential of both ourselves and others.

Career and Professional Development

In terms of career and professional development, the practice of learned optimism can support us in setting and achieving our goals. This involves recognizing our strengths, using positive language to define our objectives, and empowering ourselves to take action towards our goals. Additionally, it also involves recognizing our successes and the progress we have made, as well as identifying areas for improvement.

Health and Well-being

Finally, when it comes to health and wellbeing, the practice of learned optimism can help us to build resilience in the face of uncertainty. This involves recognizing the importance of taking care of ourselves, engaging in healthy lifestyle habits, and having a positive attitude towards self-care activities. Additionally, it can involve setting realistic goals that focus on our health and wellbeing, and being kind to ourselves even when things don’t go as planned.

Overcoming Challenges and Adversity

Ultimately, the practice of learned optimism can provide us with the strength and courage to overcome challenges and adversity. This involves recognizing our own power and potential to create positive change in our lives, and having a realistic but hopeful outlook on the future. Additionally, it involves developing healthy coping strategies to deal with difficult emotions and recognizing the importance of seeking support when needed.


In conclusion, learned optimism is a key factor in promoting a positive and healthy outlook on life. It works on the basis that our thoughts and beliefs have the power to influence our overall well being and success in life. As such, it involves cultivating an explanatory style that is more external rather than internal, adopting a belief that set-backs are temporary, and viewing challenges and adversity in a more positive light. Furthermore, the practice of learned optimism involves becoming aware of our negative thought patterns, challenging our beliefs, cultivating positive self-talk, and engaging in gratitude and mindfulness. 

Jack Sylvester
Jack Sylvester is a freelance writer, He is extremely fond of anything that is related to ghostwriting, copy writing and blogging services. He works closely with B2B businesses providing digital marketing content that gains social media attention. His aim to reach his goals one step at a time and He believes in doing everything with a smile.