1759 (in translations of Voltaire), from French optimisme (1737), from Modern Latin optimum, used by Gottfried Leibniz (in "Thodice," 1710) to mean "the greatest good," from Latin optimus "the best" (see optimum). The doctrine holds that the actual world is the "best of all possible worlds," in which the creator accomplishes the most good at the cost of the least evil.
En termes de l'art, il l'appelle la raison du meilleur ou plus savamment encore, et Théologiquement autant que Géométriquement, le systême de l'Optimum, ou l'Optimisme. ["Memoires pour l'Histoire Des Sciences & des beaux Arts," (Journal de Trévoux), Feb. 1737]
Launched out of philosophical jargon and into currency by Voltaire's satire on it in "Candide." General sense of "belief that good ultimately will prevail in the world" first attested 1841 in Emerson; meaning "tendency to take a hopeful view of things" first recorded 1819 in Shelley.
word-forming element meaning "one who does or makes," also used to indicate adherence to a certain doctrine or custom, from French -iste and directly from Latin -ista (source also of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian -ista), from Greek agent-noun ending -istes, which is from -is-, ending of the stem of verbs in -izein, + agential suffix -tes.
Variant -ister (as in chorister, barrister) is from Old French -istre, on false analogy of ministre. Variant -ista is from Spanish, popularized in American English 1970s by names of Latin-American revolutionary movements.