Does optimism equal happiness?

Fortunately, I was very happy as a child. And that happiness spilled over into later life.
But now that I am an adult, and especially as an older adult, I wonder how our parents made us so happy in the midst of the Depression while they worked very hard and had very little money.
Curious about that question, I called my only sibling–my brother, Jim. He had a quick answer: “Good family relations.”
That’s it! We had a lot of fun as a family. We laughed and joked together. We took all-day fishing trips. We had marshmallow roasts in an outdoor fireplace Dad constructed.
While driving to church, we played “Who sees the horses?” All of us knew which pastures had grazing horses, so we each tried to see them first.
A white or gray horse counted two while a black or brown horse counted only one.
But the clincher was to see a cemetery first and bury everybody else’s horses.
What fun we had with that simple game!
Come to think of it, everything happy I remember from childhood was free. So it couldn’t have been money that made us happy!
In his long career as a minister, Jim has gained plenty of wisdom. And on top of that, he is the most positive person I know.
Like each of us this side of 60, Jim has had his share of difficulties to deal with. But he always comes up smiling.
So I asked him this question: “What do you think is the secret of happiness?”
“You just have to stay positive and not focus on your aches and pains,” he replied. “But most of all, work to be optimistic.”
So I decided to pursue that word.
First in the dictionary: “Optimistic: Tending to take a hopeful and positive view of future outcomes.”
Second in Doyle Gentry’s book, “Happiness for Dummies,” where an entire chapter is dedicated to the topic. Gentry says cultivating optimism is very important if you want to be happy.
“Optimists are just happier people,” he writes, adding the behaviours they exhibit lead to more successful, satisfying lives.
Optimists are more likely to be good problem-solvers and tend to set more specific goals than pessimists. And the more specific your goals are, the more likely you are to achieve them.
Optimists take charge of their own lives. This is reflected in their academic success. Gentry reports that optimism is almost as predictive of how well students do in college as their SAT scores.
“Optimists have just as many troubles as pessimists throughout life—they just accept more responsibility for dealing with their misfortune,” Gentry says.
If you need more proof that it is better to be an optimist than a pessimist, consider a few more facts.
Optimists are less likely to be compulsive gamblers than pessimists. They’re more likely to take their vitamins, and they are not as lonely as pessimists.
And Gentry says that “cardiologists love optimistic patients!”
The main theme of “Happiness for Dummies” is that happiness is no accident. If you want to be happy, you have to work at it.
And the best way to begin is by cultivating optimistic behaviors today!
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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