“The core components of optimism surprisingly don’t really have too much to do with positive thinking at all. One of the major components actually is a sense of control; what psychologists have found is that optimists are people who have a sense that they’re in control of their own destiny […] there are lots of experiments demonstrating that that’s one of the reasons why optimism is so beneficial, and in fact even some experiments have shown that sometimes that sense of control is an illusion, but nevertheless, even though it’s an illusion, it still has a bit of a benefit.”
Elaine Fox is professor of cognitive and affective psychology at the University of Oxford. In this interview (recorded in summer 2012, when Elaine was still at the University of Essex) she talks about her book, Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: The New Science of Optimism and Pessimism, in which she explores such questions as: how does having an optimistic or a pessimistic outlook affect the successes and failures in our lives? How do small biases to look on the bright or the dark side become confirmed, even ingrained? What part do genes play in all this and how do they interact with environmental factors? And if we find ourselves on the pessimistic part of the spectrum, how can we nudge ourselves in a more positive direction?