English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I need a word to describe someone who knows better than to expect the best, but can be happy in unfortunate circumstances.

I know phrases like "positive outlook" and "good disposition" could describe such a person, but I don't know any single words that would.

To differentiate between an optimist and the person I'm trying to describe:

When asking for a promotion, an optimist will expect to receive the promotion. The other person will hope for a promotion, but won't be disappointed without it.

share|improve this question
I'm not sure exactly what it means to say this other person "hopes" for the promotion, rather than "expects" it. Surely unless he's pretty stupid (in which case he probably doesn't deserve and won't get the promotion) he should have an opinion on whether he's likely to get it or not. In short, I can't see where optimism and expectation fit in here. It seems all we're dealing with is a pragmatist/realist who's maybe not very aware of his own circumstances and likely future. Happy-go-lucky perhaps? (great film, that! :) – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '12 at 5:14
Can someone explain the downvote? – mowwwalker Dec 9 '12 at 6:39

A person with a “positive outlook” could be described as a positive person. You could say he has a positive personality.

A positive person will hope to receive the promotion, but if he doesn’t he won’t be disappointed.

From dictionary.com:

9. emphasizing what is laudable, hopeful, or to the good; constructive: a positive attitude toward the future; positive things to say about a painting.
10. not speculative or theoretical; practical: a positive approach to the problem.

share|improve this answer

You could describe a person who "can be happy in unfortunate circumstances" as sunny -- cheerful.

Your example describes a person with a glass-half-full attitude. In the link to Wiktionary, the definition is given as "optimistic," but to me it is slightly less in that direction, and more someone who would make the best of whatever life sent their way. If you really want a single word, however, go with sunny.

share|improve this answer

Will a realist do? A fatalist will succumb to faith, a pessimist will accept the worst, an optimist will always be disappointed, but a realist sounds just right. Doesn't he?

share|improve this answer
I think this correct - perhaps with an additional adjective - especially as the term realist is often taken as a synonym for 'pessimest'. A 'sunny realist' 'positive thinking realist'. – dwjohnston Oct 4 '14 at 6:13

The word that come to my mind immediately is "content" or "contented." Webster's New World Dictionary simply defines the word: "1.satisfied 2.willing; assenting"

Upon further reflection, I tend to think optimism and idealism are confused terms, especially by pessimists. I would say,

When asking for a promotion, an idealist will expect to receive the promotion. An optimist will hope for a promotion, but won't be disappointed without it.

Because optimism is at the core of my being, this is how I would view the situation. Because the optimist is generally going to have an optimistic view, even of not getting the promotion. (Though I doubt many would realistically be "not disappointed" if they're asking for the promotion, even an optimist). But because there is this common misconception of optimist, I believe content or contented would suffice. Besides, content has such a pleasing ring to it, doesn't it?

Note: Webter's New World Dictionary defines as follows:

idealism: 1. behavior or thought based on a conception of things as one thinks they should be 2. a striving for one's ideals

optimism: 1.the belief that good ultimately prevails over evil 2. the tendency to take the most hopeful view of matters

share|improve this answer

Perhaps the word you are looking for is sanguine?

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.