Do optimists change following a significant life event?

When faced with life’s challenges, optimistic people remain so throughout life, says study.

If you expect more good things to happen in life than bad, you are likely to be an optimist and a pessimist if you expect more bad things to happen than good.

Our outlook on life stems mainly from life events (twenty-five per cent is inherited), so it’s fair to assume that when bad things happen, our view might change, but that’s not necessarily the case.

William Chopik, Assistant Professor of Social and Personality Psychology at Michigan State University, wanted to know whether people’s outlook over the life span altered in response to major life events such as; marriage, divorce, retirement, health changes, new job or personal loss of a parent, child or spouse.

In the most extensive international study of its kind, 75000 people from America, Germany and Holland aged between 16-101 were assessed to determine their optimism levels and outlook on life.

The results published in the Journal of Research in Personality found that optimism levels were high from 15 to midlife when they plateaued and started to go down from the age of 70.

Life events didn’t have a significant effect on people’s future outlook. Optimistic people generally remained optimistic despite stressful life events, indicating that people can be unhappy but still feel positive about the future.

“Counterintuitively — and most surprising — we found that really hard things like deaths and divorce really didn’t change a person’s outlook to the future. This shows that a lot of people likely subscribe to the ‘life is short’ mantra and realize they should focus on things that make them happy and maintain emotional balance,” said Chopik in a press release.

Chopik also noted that the most striking finding from the study was people’s capacity for resilience in the face of tragedy.

“We oftentimes think that the really sad or tragic things that happen in life completely alter us as people, but that’s not really the case.” “You don’t fundamentally change as a result of terrible things; people diagnosed with an illness or those who go through another crisis still felt positive about the future and what life had ahead for them on the other side.”


Chopik. W.J., Oh.J., Kim.E., Schwaba.T., Kramer.m.D., Richter.D., Smith.J. (2020) “Changes in Optimism and Pessimism in response to life events: Evidence From 3 Large panel studies”. Journal of Research in Personality (first published online: June 30th) DOI: 101016/j.jrp2020.103985

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: