Who has the key to life satisfaction?

Can optimism really be the key to a happier life? A new study provides compelling evidence that the answer is yes. It turns out that even a little bit of optimism can lead to a high level of life satisfaction.

Optimists, that is, people who think positively, are more self-confident and put more effort when pursuing a goal. Unlike pessimists. Having encountered obstacles, the latter are not inclined to make an effort because they have many preconceptions. Negative ones, of course.

Optimism helps maintain better physical health, learn better, and cope with stressful situations. The optimist always sees many possibilities for solving a problem and eventually solves it. However, not everything is as beautiful as it may seem. Optimists may get into trouble in their personal life and professional activities. Because they are convinced that they have everything under control and are overconfident, they underestimate risks and make mistakes. In addition, some studies show that optimists find it harder to recover from high stress and may have cardiac problems.

Because the pessimist sees only problems and obstacles, he or she often does not even try to overcome them. What can you do if you know that you have no control over your life? This can also be a kind of defensive strategy. Since ‘you still will not succeed’, you have the opportunity to make excuses in case of failure, to avoid doubts about your capabilities. This allows you to preserve your self-esteem. Self-esteem is very important for the pessimist too.

Scholars disagree about the extent to which life satisfaction depends on the growth in economic well-being. For example, the results of a large-scale study (involving 46 countries with different levels of development) have shown that economic growth was increasing the subjective well-being of the population [1]. Does this mean that countries with stagnating economies have no hope? Or maybe not all is lost?

In search of an answer, we raised a question with Nawaz Ahmad, a colleague from the University of Aveiro in Portugal. The question, as you have already understood, is related to optimism. That is, we decided to check to what extent optimism can ‘cure’ life satisfaction?

A perfect country to look for an answer to this question is Pakistan. Over the past two decades, this country’s Human Development Index (HDI) has increased minimally, from 0.400 (in 1990) to 0.544 (in 2022). With this indicator, the state ranks 161st out of 191.

The study [2] surveyed residents belonging to different socio-economic groups. The result was unexpected. The average score for optimism was 1.54 out of five. That is, extremely low. However, (this is where the intrigue begins), the average life satisfaction score was as high as 4.47!

Further calculations show strong correlation between optimism and life satisfaction. In other words, these two things are closely related. We also checked how optimism affected life satisfaction. It turned out that an increase in optimism by at least one point had led to more than double the increase in life satisfaction.

Of course, these results should not encourage politicians, on whose decisions the society’s well-being depends, to relax. But the good news is that neither optimism nor pessimism is innate. Optimism can be learned. It is important that parents, educators, psychologists and counsellors – all who develop the personality and help solve personal problems – should know this.

[1] Mikucka, M., Sarracino, F., Dubrow, J. K. (2017). When does economic growth improve life satisfaction? Multilevel analysis of the roles of social trust and income inequality in 46 countries, 1981–2012. World Development, 93, 447–459.

[2] Ahmad, N., Vveinhardt, J. (2024). Effect of an optimistic approach on individual life satisfaction. Revista de la Universidad del Zulia, 15(43), 79–95. https://www.researchgate.net/…_Individual_Life_Satisfaction