The Optimistic Child

You can teach happiness

Optimism is not a mere sunny outlook on life, nor is it simple self esteem. Rather it is a type of self-knowledge that can make people healthier and happier. And 20 years of controlled scientific clinical trials have proved that it can be learned. Furthermore, optimism can be taught to children. There is probably no better gift to kids (your own or others) than to teach them how to train themselves to be happy. If for no other reason than the fact that pessimism leads to illness and depression. This book is based on large-scale programs that have taught kids of all backgrounds and dispositions how to be more optimistic.

-- KK 04/21/04


Why should we bother? Isn't pessimism just a posture with no effects in the world? Unfortunately not. I have studied pessimism for the last twenty years, and in more than one thousand studies, involving more than half a million children and adults, pessimistic people do worse than optimistic people in three ways: First, they get depressed much more often. Second, they achieve less at school, on the job, and on the playing field than their talents augur. Third, their physical health is worse than that of optimists. So holding a pessimistic theory of the world may be the mark of sophistication, but it is a costly one. It is particularly damaging for a child, and if your child has already acquired pessimism, he is at risk for doing less well in school. He is at risk for greater problems of depression and anxiety. He may be at risk for worse physical health than he would have if he were an optimist. And worse, pessimism in a child can become a lifelong, self-fulfilling template for looking at setbacks and losses. The good news is that he can, with your help, learn optimism.


Optimistic children explain good events to themselves in terms of permanent causes. They point to traits and abilities that they will always have, like being hard-working, likable, or lovable. They use "always" when they describe the causes of good events. Pessimists think in terms of transient causes. "I was in a good mood," or "I practiced hard this time." Their explanations of good events are qualified with the words, "sometimes" and "today," and they often use the past tense and limit it to time only ("I practiced hard this time."). When children who believe their successes have permanent causes do well, they will try even harder next time. Children who see temporary reasons for good events may give up even when they succeed, believing the success was a fluke.

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