“I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.”
— Martha (Mrs. George) Washington

Are some people just born optimistic—the old nature/nurture question?  How do I separate a healthy pessimism (Can I comfortably afford this car—maybe not….) from the soul-crushing negativity that drove me away from my last boss?

Maybe you’ve wondered about these questions too in your professional or personal life. The good news is that there’s a rapidly growing body of knowledge emerging in the last 25+ years that can move us from “I wonder” to “I know”.

Talk to any Human Resources professional, and they’ll probably agree that a dose of optimism is needed at this point in the economic recovery. Organizations trying to create a more emotionally intelligent workforce know that optimism skills make teams more creative and less combative.

My own experience with teams and leadership has motivated me to keep learning about the real facts of optimism/pessimism and how it impacts a healthy bottom line as well as employee (and my own) satisfaction in the workplace.

I’ve found that the research in the science of optimism gives organizations that missing dimension that enables them to fully realize the return on investment in their people. And it isn’t just about hiring the exceptional candidate. It’s about teaching optimism skills so that workers know the difference between the considered pessimism that leads to better decisions, and the stifling, “Yeah, but”, or “I’m just a realist” attitudes that can hurt employee engagement, and seriously undermine retention efforts.

The researchers who authored What Works at Work (section 5 / pg 47+) have, for example, measured a relationship between innovative HR practices in companies and a rise in stock value—one example of how organizations that are optimistic enough to listen to workers and try new things can increase profitability at the same time. Of course, it’s a tough economy, and I’m not naïve enough to think that optimism is the only factor that helps to keep the lights on when so many have had to cut back or have gone under. But there’s credible evidence out there that the good to great recipe has authentic optimism as a prime ingredient.