Optimism: Is it earned or learned?

Published: Tuesday, March 19 2013 5:40 p.m. MDT

In Gallup's survey, Costa Rica came in at the 10th spot among countries with the highest positive emotions; South Korea came in 100th, in the bottom half among those with the lowest positive emotions worldwide.

"They think they are the top of the heap, they think they've got the best country in Central America," Johnson said.

"The Costa Ricans spend more time with their families and their friends. ... Costa Ricans think if they fail, their friends and family will pull them up."

Johnson has also seen that religious people are usually happier overall than those who are not religious.

"Probably connection and religiousness, that's probably what's helping them be happier," he said.

Johnson, who works in positive psychology, uses various techniques to help people cultivate positivity in their everyday lives. The most effective way to help people is by changing their ways of thinking.

"Optimism is a habit of thinking of the future in a hopeful way. People vary with optimism," he said. "If you measure people's happiness and train them, you can make them more optimistic."

However, the easiest way that Hunter sees positive psychology changing lives is through the words of the late Chris Peterson, a colleague of Seligman's in positive psychology.

"He said that positive psychology could be summarized in three words — other people matter," Hunter said. "The other cultures that were happiest were the ones that have a focus on other people: lots of family, less time on work and trying to make more money."

The way she sees it, other people should always be the ones who matter, those closest to a person should be the ones who matter most. In the end, family — the fundamental unit of society — would be the way to change the world with positive psychology.

Highest positive emotions worldwide

According to Gallup, the following 10 countries had the highest percentage of adults who reported feeling all the emotions asked about:

Country, percentage

Panama, 85

Paraguay, 85

El Salvador, 84

Venezuela, 84

Trinidad and Tobago, 84

Thailand, 83

Guatemala, 82

Philippines, 82

Ecuador, 81

Costa Rica, 81

Source: Gallup.com

Mandy Morgan is an intern for the Deseret News, reporting on issues surrounding both family and values in the media. She is a true-blue Aggie, studying Journalism and Political Science at Utah State University, and hails from Highland, Utah.

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