Americans have a positive outlook for a rich country

Posted By on April 10, 2015

Jared Keller’s article in The Atlantic last month focused on the observation that “outside the U.S., fewer people in rich countries describe their day as a good day.”  For the most part, Americans are hopeful and optimistic as compared to their peer in other first world countries. (the graphic below is interesting on several levels)


It’s been noticed by foreigners and social observers throughout the centuries that there is “energy, enthusiasm and confidence” in America (Irish philosopher Charles Handy) and that it contrasts with the world cynicism in much of Europe. 

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French observer of American life at the beginning of the 19th century, observed that the Americans of his day “have all a lively faith in the perfectibility of man … They all consider society as a body in a state of improvement.” Political and social observers have echoed this sentiment for centuries, enshrining optimism as an essential feature of not just the abstract ‘American Dream,’ but also of the social and economic institutions of American civil society.

That Tocquevillian optimism has certainly dimmed with the Great Recession: People in advanced nations including the U.S. are far less optimisticthan those in poorer ones about the financial future of the next generation of citizens, in part because emerging and developing nations weathered the global financial crisis better than anyone expected.


So why are Americans so optimistic? A growing number of psychologists and sociologists believe it’s the Western world’s distinct tradition of individualism—and Americans’ fervent embrace of it—that helps the U.S. respond to uncertainty and turmoil with an eye towards a brighter future.

“It’s actually not that people are inherently optimistic or pessimistic; we’re wired for both,” says Dr. Edward C. Chang, a clinical psychologist who runs the Perfectionism and Optimism-Pessimism Lab at the University of Michigan. “It’s a dual process mechanism, the sort of daily meditation that helps people regulate their expectations. It’s this psychological process that keeps people from becoming so optimistic they’re like Mr. Magoo, or so pessimistic they fall into a pit of despair. The two compliment each other; whether you’re more or less optimistic or pessimistic is heavily dependent on the culture you live in, the culture that shapes your values.”

Read the entire article here.


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