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In Search of Realistic Optimism Meaning, Knowledge, and Warm Fuzziness Sandra L. Schneider University of South Florida failures on situation-specific external factors (i.e., self- Is it better to be realistic or optimistic? A realistic outlook improves chances to negotiate the environment success- serving bias), has been associated with better outcomes in fully, whereas an optimistic outlook places priority on terms of health and achievement. According to Peterson et feeling good. But are realistic and optimistic outlooks al. (1998), people who espoused an optimistic perspective necessarily in conflict? The author suggests that the fuzzy in childhood outlived their more negatively oriented coun- nature of accuracy typically places only loose boundaries terparts by an average of almost two years. Here again, the on what it means to be realistic. As a result, there are many research seems to suggest that an optimistic outlook is forms of optimism that do not, in principle, yield unrealistic superior to one that is more realistic. assessments. Nevertheless, there remain numerous “opti- During roughly the same time period, Scheier and mistic biases ” that do involve self-deception, or convincing Carver (1985, 1987, 1992) were studying optimism using oneself of desired beliefs without appropriate reality the now-popular Life Orientation Test. They defined opti– checks. The author describes several ways that realistic mism, not as a function of causal attributions, but as a and unrealistic optimism can be differentiated and explores general disposition to expect good outcomes. They found the impact of this distinction for current views of optimism. that optimists reported fewer physical symptoms, better This critique reveals how positive psychology may benefit health habits, and better coping strategies. Even among a from a focus on personal meaning and knowledge as they group of women who had experienced the recent bad relate to making the most of life. outcome of…

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