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Are You Hardwired For Hope?

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”-Helen Keller

Are people hardwired for optimism or pessimism? Some studies indicate certain people seem to be born with a bent toward positive or negative thinking — at least according to their brain scans.

Sometimes Social media posts provide a glimpse at the belief systems of online friends; even more so than any brain scan could. People who shine a bright spotlight on the highs in their lives and the people in them, as well as those who complain about nearly every aspect, will offer evidence of their perspective. Some share the roller coaster ride to try to draw folks into their drama, while others do so in order to establish connection and seek support.

This topic came up in conversation recently. I asked my Facebook friends, “Do you believe that optimism can be cultivated or is it hardwired into us? Are there some for whom pessimism is a default setting? Recently, people have asked if I am always happy. Mostly, but not 24/7. My parents taught me to be resilient in the face of loss and challenge, with a ‘you’ve got this,’ attitude. I have been the reliable go-to person in many circumstances and relationships.”

The responses were varied and insightful.

  • “I would use these words to describe myself…”Hope springs eternal” … Alexander PopeI believe I arrived this way. It certainly was not something learned in my family of origin, as both my parents eventually found sobriety with A.A. Most of the folks I’ve encountered who are negative and pessimistic can’t or won’t even consider there could be another way in life. I’ve always viewed such people as a lesson. Some I’ve even had to distance myself from because clearly they are too entrenched to see things any other way.”


  • “I do believe it can be cultivated! Just as one might think pessimism is a default setting, might one think strongly the same of optimism. We all have choices we make along this journey called life. Happiness is a huge choice and it is one we can choose, no matter what the challenges or obstacles are that we face whether together or alone. Together we are the stronger always!”


  • “Studies have shown yes optimism & happiness can be cultivated. We all have a happiness set point. Good things happen we get happier but then we acclimate and settle back down to the set point. 50% of our happiness set point is genes, we were born this way. 10% is life circumstances that you can’t really change, and 40% is intentional activity which you can change. I studied this is my positive psychology class. Awesome stuff. How to immediately improve your happiness? Things like gratitude, basking & savoring, acts of kindness, & meditation just to name a few.”


  • “Yes, it’s a learned habit that one chooses. But if that doesn’t work a good antidepressant helps from going too low into suicide depths.”


  • “Beautiful. DNA has some aspects of these chemicals releases in the body, however I speak for myself when I say it can be learned & applied.. can do attitude goes a long way, with a lot of laughter.”


  • “It is about how you are brought up.  “God is redirecting you. something good will come of this,” was what I grew up with.”


  • “Yes and no. My sister seemed hard wired for the “life is hard” view, while I see even tough things as lessons. however, she also apparently experienced a terrible secret trauma as a child. perhaps she would have been as upbeat as her baby sister if that hadn’t happened. I think that being resilient – whch CAN be taught – opens the door to optimism.”


  • “I have to return, not that I ever left, to my primary mentor Dr. Viktor Frankl who famously said, people make conscious decisions on the way they feel, written in Auschwitz concentration camp. I live by choice and certainly, meeting John increased the choice toward optimism. In life he was my unexpected gift. in death, his wisdom has arisen so to speak and when there are challenges, I remember clearly his attitude and philosophy. HE was a diplomat and although that hasn’t entirely rubbed off, I am far more aware of the choices I make with regard to optimism and happiness. What I believe to be essential in this, is that other emotions are recognised and respected, namely anger in that if it is repressed all kinds of calamities can be created. So even though optimism is to be cherished, life has a way of tested us at times severely. at those times we have to take note. Depression and anxiety aren’t choices. I have seen people struggle with those awful conditions because they have been with people who have told them to snap out of it, so their belief is they are weak. not so. it is a disease without respect.and living with a stigma of that sort, is very sad.”

Are You Hardwired For Hope?

Cognitive neuroscientist Tali Sharot, PhD, wrote The Optimism Bias, which supports the belief that “humans are hardwired for hope.” While encouraging, her statement makes it easy to wonder which outlook applies more to you. The following mindset reveals that you might be a pessimist:

  • You imagine the worst case scenario, such as “I just know I’ll fail that test.”
  • You wonder why anyone would want to spend time with you.
  • You complain often about things over which you have no control, such as traffic and weather.
  • You carry the past around with you like a heavy weight.
  • You believe your history is your destiny.
  • You notice the people around you seem to be happy being miserable, as misery loves company.
  • You believe that anticipating what could go wrong makes you better prepared.
  • You identify with the Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore;  the eternal pessimist.

By contrast, the following suggest you’re more of an optimist:

  • You wake up smiling.
  • You channel your inner “Annie” and remind yourself when circumstances seem discouraging that “The sun’ll come out tomorrow.”
  • You make lemon meringue pie when life gives you lemons.
  • You share good news.
  • You attract positive people.
  • You have an attitude of gratitude.
  • You find that others are drawn to your enthusiasm.
  • You look for solutions and solve problems.

It’s all about keeping our perspective.  Wise words from Albert Einstein, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Imagine wearing eyeglasses with smudges on the lenses: You’d “see” that the world looks blurred and distorted. Clean the specs and the world appears clear. We find what we’re looking for.

Leadership skills are one benefit of optimism, and they play a prominent role in recovery. When people feel as if they can take charge and master a challenge, they’re more likely to succeed. Martin Seligman, PhD, a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, researches the emotions and character traits that make people feel life has meaning and is worth experiencing. However, Dr. Seligman originally focused on “learned helplessness” — the sense of inability to change a situation that in reality can be changed.

None of this is to say it’s wise or realistic to ignore challenges in service to being the eternal optimist. That would be like getting into a ring with a bull and believing he won’t charge because you’re a vegetarian. By weighing the pros and cons of a situation, taking stock of your resources, and then taking inspired action, you can use awareness of what could go wrong to be proactive. There’s always a balance.

Glass Half Full or Half Empty?


The fuel that optimism has to support a happier, healthier and more balanced life, comes from its ability to give perspective on what you’re really capable of. Think of the analogy of a glass being half full or half empty. In reality, the glass is full: Air fills the space not taken up by liquid. Another way of considering this concept is to think of yourself as an “opti-mystic” — someone who sees the world through the eyes of possibility.

Photo by quapan

Are You Hardwired For Hope?

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

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APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2016). Are You Hardwired For Hope?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Jul 2016
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