Optimism, Agency, and Success

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Does optimism lead to success? Friends of optimism argue that positive beliefs
about ourselves and our future contribute to our fitness and mental health, and are correlated with good functioning, productivity, resilience, and pro-social behaviour. Sceptics, instead, claim that when we are optimistic we fail to react constructively to negative feedback, and put ourselves at risk because we underestimate threats. Thus, it is controversial whether optimistic beliefs are conducive to success, intended as the fulfilment of our goals in a given domain. According to the traditional view, optimistic beliefs lead to success when they do not involve any distortion of reality, and according to the trade-off view, they lead to success when they involve a distortion of reality, but a small one. Based on the literature about positive illusions in the perception of romantic partners and in the assessment of future health prospects, I suggest that optimistic beliefs lead to goal attainment when they support agency by contributing to the sense that we are competent and efficacious agents and that our goals are both desirable and attainable.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEthical Theory and Moral Practice
Early online date13 May 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 May 2018


  • optimism
  • agency
  • success
  • rationality
  • truth
  • bias


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