Have a question? Search the Knowledge Base.

Optimism Print or save as PDF

How is it defined?

Optimism is characterised by hopefulness and confidence about the future, a tendency to take a favourable view of things, and an explanatory style marked by evaluating negative events as temporary, external and specific to situation (Kern at al., 2016). The Learning Bar’s framework on student engagement includes measures of social, institutional and intellectual engagement. Optimism sits under students’ social-emotional outcomes. The optimism measure is closely connected to both the happiness and academic self-concept measures. Combined, these three measures provide information about students’ self-perceptions of worth and positive emotions.

Why is it important?

  • In the field of positive psychology, well-being is defined as the prevalence of positive attributes, not just the absence of mental illness (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
  • Optimism has been related to greater satisfaction with life, more effective coping strategies, fewer symptoms of depression and psychological distress, better physical health, longer life, lower rates of cardiovascular disease, and better social relationships (see Kern at al., 2016).
  • Optimism is connected to self-concept. People who think positively about themselves achieve more, are healthier, happier, and get more out of life (Craven & Marsh 2008).

Optimism has been identified as a component of subjective mental and physical health and well-being (Diener, 1984).

Optimism makes up one of five positive characteristics in youth that Kern et. al. (2016) believe will foster engagement, accomplishment, meaning, relationships and positive emotions in adulthood. The other four characteristics are engagement, perseverance, connectedness and happiness. Positive emotion is identified by Seligman (2011) as one of five pillars that make-up the PERMA model of well-being. These five pillars are: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. PERMA defines well-being as ‘flourishing’ in these five pillars.

How do we measure it?

In the Tell Them From Me secondary school questionnaire, students respond to Likert questions about how they feel about certain things in their lives. The questions refer to statements such as ‘I think most days will be good’, ‘I think good things will happen’, etc. The results are reported as the percentage of students with high, medium or low levels of optimism. Students with high levels of optimism are also described as students that ‘feel good most of the time’.

This briefing note is for a DOE custom well-being measure, and has been prepared by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation.



Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 542-575.

Kern, M. L., Benson, L., Steinberg, E. A., & Steinberg, L. (2016). The EPOCH measure of adolescent well-being. Psychological Assessment, 28(5), 586-597.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Free Press.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.