The Optimism Test

OptimismCan you prevent depression and anxiety? The research says that yes, sometimes you can! By practicing the skill of optimism.

How we think about bad events, matters. Many healthy people and critical thinkers unknowingly tend toward pessimistic thinking and this is a known risk factor for depression. Further, cultivating the skill of optimism is protective against depression. Are you naturally a more optimistic or pessimistic thinker?

This optimism test, provided by Dr. Marty Seligman, a Positive Psychology researcher and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is a good place to start! (Visit their website for more optimism tests and authentic happiness questionnaires.)


“A pessimist sees the difficultly in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill


The Optimism Test

Read the description of each situation and vividly imagine it happening to you, even if it’s never actually happened. Then read the two reasons for why this situation happened. Choose the cause more likely to apply to you. You may not like the way some of the responses sound, but don’t choose what you think you should say or what would sound right to other people – choose the response you’d be likelier to have.


  1. The project you are in charge of is a great success:
    1. I kept a close watch over everyone’s work
    2. Everyone devoted a lot of time and energy to it


  1. You and your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) make up after a fight:
    1. I forgave him/her
    2. I’m usually forgiving


  1. You get lost driving to a friend’s house:
    1. I missed a turn
    2. My friend gave me bad directions


  1. Your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) surprises you with a gift:
    1. He/she just got a raise at work
    2. I took him/her out to a special dinner the night before


  1. You forget your spouse’s (boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s) birthday:
    1. I’m not good at remembering birthdays
    2. I was preoccupied with other things


  1. You get a flower from a secret admirer:
    1. I am attractive to him/her
    2. I am a popular person


  1. You run for a community office position and you win:
    1. I devoted a lot of time and energy to campaigning
    2. I work very hard at everything I do


  1. You miss an important engagement:
    1. Sometimes my memory fails me
    2. I sometimes forget to check my appointment book


  1. You run for a community office position and you lose:
    1. I didn’t campaign hard enough
    2. The person who won knew more people


  1. You host a successful dinner:
    1. I was particularly charming that night
    2. I am a good host


  1. You stop a crime by calling the police:
    1. A strange noise caught my attention
    2. I was alert that day


  1. You were extremely healthy all year:
    1. Few people around me were sick, so I wasn’t exposed
    2. I made sure I ate well and got enough rest


  1. You owe the library ten dollars for an overdue book:
    1. When I am really involved in what I am reading, I often forget when it’s due
    2. I was so involved in writing the report that I forgot to return the book


  1. Your stocks make you a lot of money:
    1. My broker decided to take on something new
    2. My broker is a top-notch investor


  1. You win an athletic contest:
    1. I was feeling unbeatable
    2. I train hard


  1. You fail an important examination:
    1. I wasn’t as smart as the other people taking the exam
    2. I didn’t prepare for it well


  1. You prepared a special meal for a friend and he/she barely touched the food:
    1. I wasn’t a good cook
    2. I made the meal in a rush


  1. You lose a sporting event for which you have been training for a long time:
    1. I’m not very athletic
    2. I’m not good at that sport


  1. Your car runs out of gas on a dark street late at night:
    1. I didn’t check to see how much gas was in the tank
    2. The gas gauge was broken


  1. You lose your temper with a friend:
    1. He/she is always nagging me
    2. He/she was in a hostile mood


  1. You are penalized for not returning your income tax forms on time:
    1. I always put off doing my taxes
    2. I was lazy about getting my taxes done this year


  1. You ask a person out on a date and he/she says no:
    1. I was a wreck that day
    2. I got tongue-tied when I asked him/he on the date


  1. A game-show host picks you out of the audience to participate in the show:
    1. I was sitting in the right seat
    2. I looked the most enthusiastic


  1. You are frequently asked to dance at a party:
    1. I am outgoing at parties
    2. I was in perfect form that night


  1. You buy your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) a gift he/she doesn’t like:
    1. I don’t put enough thought into things like that
    2. He/she has very picky tastes


  1. You do exceptionally well in a job interview:
    1. I felt extremely confident during the interview
    2. I interview well


  1. You tell a joke and everyone laughs:
    1. The joke was funny
    2. My timing was perfect


  1. Your boss gives you too little time in which to finish a project, but you get it finished anyway:
    1. I am good at my job
    2. I am an efficient person


  1. You’ve been feeling run-down lately:
    1. I never get a chance to relax
    2. I was exceptionally busy this week


  1. You ask someone to dance and he/she says no:
    1. I am not a good enough dancer
    2. He/she doesn’t like to dance


  1. You save a person from choking to death:
    1. I know a technique to stop someone from choking
    2. I know what to do in crisis situations


  1. Your romantic partner wants to cool things off for a while:
    1. I’m too self-centered
    2. I don’t spend enough time with him/her


  1. A friend says something that hurts your feelings:
    1. She always blurts things out without thinking of others
    2. My friend was in a bad mood and took it out on me


  1. Your employer comes to you for advice:
    1. I am an expert in the area about which I was asked
    2. I’m good at giving useful advice


  1. A friend thanks you for helping him/her get through a bad time:
    1. I enjoy helping him/her through tough times
    2. I care about people


  1. You have a wonderful time at a party:
    1. Everyone was friendly
    2. I was friendly


  1. Your doctor tells you that you are in good physical shape:
    1. I make sure I exercise frequently
    2. I am very health-conscious


  1. Your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) takes you away for a romantic weekend:
    1. He/she needed to get away for a few days
    2. He/she likes to explore new areas


  1. Your doctor tells you that you eat too much sugar:
    1. I don’t pay much attention to my diet
    2. You can’t avoid sugar, it’s in everything


  1. You are asked to head an important project:
    1. I just successfully completed a similar project
    2. I am a good supervisor


  1. You and your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) have been fighting a great deal:
    1. I have been feeling cranky and pressured lately
    2. He/she has been hostile lately


  1. You fall down a great deal while skiing:
    1. Skiing is difficult
    2. The trails were icy


  1. You win a prestigious award:
    1. I solved an important problem
    2. I was the best employee


  1. Your stocks are at an all-time low:
    1. I didn’t know much about the business climate at the time
    2. I made a poor choice of stocks


  1. You win the lottery:
    1. It was pure chance
    2. I picked the right numbers


  1. You gain weight over the holidays and you can’t lose it:
    1. Diets don’t work in the long run
    2. The diet I tried didn’t work


  1. You are in the hospital and few people come to visit:
    1. I’m irritable when I am sick
    2. My friends are negligent about things like that


  1. They won’t honor your credit card at a store:
    1. I sometimes overestimate how much money I have
    2. I sometimes forget to pay my credit card bill


Scoring for the Optimism Test:


Overall, we’re looking at 3 dimensions of optimism:

  1. Do you see bad events as permanent, or temporary? For example, if your romantic partner breaks up with you, do you believe it’s because you’re unlovable or that no one understands you (i.e. a permanent state)? Or do you believe that you two just weren’t a good match (a temporary state)? What about if you win the lottery? In this case, if you believe that you’re a lucky person (i.e. a permanent state), that’s optimistic compared to someone who thinks that they just got lucky with those numbers.
  2. Are bad experiences specific, or do they affect all parts of your life (i.e. pervasive)? For example, if you failed the math test, do you believe it’s because you’re not smart enough (i.e. a pervasive state), or is it because you’re just not great at that subject (i.e. specific)?
  3. When bad things happen, do you blame yourself, or the circumstances (personalized)?

Pessimists tend to view bad events as permanent, pervasive, and personal. When these habits are out of balance with optimistic thinking, our risk of experiencing depression and anxiety is higher.  


Add 1 point for each of the following answers:

PmB (Permanence Bad) score questions: 5a, 13a, 20a, 21a, 29a, 33a, 42a, 46a. Total PmB score:

PmG (Permanence Good) score questions: 2b, 10b, 14b, 15b, 24a, 26b, 38b, 40b. Total PmG score:

PvB (Pervasiveness Bad) score questions: 8a, 17a, 18a, 22a, 32a, 44a, 48a. Total PvB score:

PvG (Pervasiveness Good) score questions: 6b, 7b, 28b, 31b, 34b, 35b, 37b, 43b. Total PvG score:

PsB (Personalized Bad) score questions: 3a, 9a, 16a, 19a, 25a, 30a, 39a, 41a, 47a. Total PsB score:

PsG (Personalized Good) score questions: 1a, 4b, 11b, 12b, 23b, 27b, 36b, 45b. Total PsG score:


  1. Add the three G’s (PmG + PvG + PsG) together – this is your total “good event” score.
  2. Add the three B’s (PmB + PvB + PsB) together – this is your total “bad event” score.
  3. Subtract B from G to get your overall score.
  4. Add only PmB (permanence) and PvB (pervasiveness) to get your “hopefulness” score.


If your “good event score” is:

  • 20 and above you think about good events very optimistically
  • 17 – 19 your thinking is moderately optimistic
  • 14 – 16 is about average
  • 11 – 13 indicated that you think quite pessimistically
  • Anything 10 or less indicates great pessimism


If your “bad event score” is:

  • 3 – 6 you are marvelously optimistic about bad events
  • 6 – 9 you are moderately optimistic
  • 10 – 11 is about average
  • 12 – 14 is moderately pessimistic
  • Anything above 14 is very pessimistic


If your “overall score” (G – B score) is:

  • Above 8, you are very optimistic
  • 6 – 8 is moderately optimistic
  • 3 – 5 is average
  • 1 – 2 is moderately pessimistic
  • A score of 0 and below is very pessimistic


If your “hopefulness score” (PmB + PvB) is:

  • Above 12, you tend to feel very hopeless
  • 9-11 is moderately hopeless
  • 7 – 8 is average hopefulness
  • 3 – 6 is moderately hopeful
  • 0 – 2 is extraordinarily hopeful


Certainly, some situations call for mild pessimism and some call for more optimism. Awareness of these situations and our thoughts is key. If you have any concerns about your scores, please follow-up with your primary healthcare provider for support!


Additional Resources:

Perceived Stress Questionnaire, a health tool commonly used to assess day-to-day levels of stress.

Authentic Happiness, University of Pennsylvania

The VIA Institute on Character: This validated personality test is intended to help us identify our strengths, to be applied for more fulfilment and happiness in our lives.

Positive Psychology: A free online course on Coursera (select “audit course”), presented by Dr. Martin Seligman and the University of Pennsylvania.



* Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash

Counseling, Mental health

Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND

Dr. Sonya Nobbe is a Naturopathic Doctor and Director of Kingston Integrated Healthcare Inc. She has been practicing in the Kingston area since 2007. Dr. Sonya maintains a family practice, with a clinical focus on complex chronic disease, including Lyme disease and Fibromyalgia.


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