— a report commissioned by The National Lottery
… making optimistic symbols and anticipating optimistic outcomes of undecided situations is as much part of human nature, of the human biology, as are the shape of the body, the growth of children, and the zest of sexual pleasure…Neither the consciousness of mortality nor a cold sense of human frailty depresses the belief in desirable futures
— Lionel Tiger, Optimism: The Biology of Hope.
I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will
— Antonio Gramsci, Italian political theorist.
This report presents the first findings of research conducted by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) into the nature of optimism in 21st century Britain. The research, commissioned by The National Lottery, has provided a distinctive and definitive account of the role that optimism plays in the lives of the British public, focusing on the importance of optimism both as part of individual identity and personal outlook and as a central factor in social relationships.
SIRC takes as its starting point the idea that optimism, or the ability to favour a positive perception of current or future events, is something that is experienced by most human beings. While optimism is a common human experience, however, it can take on a variety of forms depending on individual circumstances and particular social contexts. It is often combined with (or restrained by) varying degrees of realism, pragmatism, fatalism and even pessimism.
Our ideas about optimism, and the extent to which we think optimistically, are formed both individually according to our personal idiosyncrasies and socially in relation to the social worlds in which we live. As individuals and in groups we learn on the one hand to be more wary of some types of risk and on the other to be more optimistic about particular outcomes or eventualities.
But what are people most optimistic about? Why is it we are more optimistic about some aspects of our lives and not about others? What, in the end, defines an ‘optimistic’ person?
In what follows we unravel these questions in order to explore the social importance of looking on the brighter side of life.
Click here to access the full report in pdf format.