After giving a lecture at a large tech company, I got into a cab bound for the airport along with one of the attendees. As I searched for my seatbelt in the bottomless crevice of the back seat, I noticed that my fellow passenger was not wearing his seatbelt. I said something clever like “Afraid of seatbelts?” and he replied, “Nope, I’m an optimist.”
That’s not optimism. That’s insanity. Optimism is good for many things, but it will definitely not keep other cars from hitting you, nor keep you from flying through the windshield. That is irrational optimism.
In The Happiness Advantage, I define rational optimism as “a realistic assessment of the present, while maintaining a belief that our behavior will eventually create a better reality.” This is the type of leadership we want to develop at our companies and reward in the political sphere.