"You look back four years from now, I think, hopefully, people will judge that body of work and say, 'This is [a] big ocean liner; it's not a speedboat. It doesn't turn around immediately, but we're in a better -- better place because of the decisions that we made,'" he said.
Even amid the optimism, President Obama cautioned Americans that recovery will take time and he called for continued patience from a recession-weary nation.
"We'll recover from this recession, but it will take time, it will take patience and it will take an understanding that, when we all work together, when each of us looks beyond our own short-term interest to the wider set of obligations we have towards each other, that's when we succeed, that's when we prosper and that's what is needed right now," the president said.
"It's important to remember that this crisis didn't happen overnight and it didn't result from any one action or decision," he said. "There are no quick fixes and there are no silver bullets."
The president also defended his administration's call for greater regulatory authority over failing financial institutions by pointing out that it was because of a lack of authority by the federal government that the AIG financial crisis happened.
"We should have obtained it much earlier so that any institution that poses a systemic risk that could bring down the financial system we can handle and we can do it in an orderly fashion that quarantines it from other institutions," he said.
Obama appeared to dial back some of the anger he has recently expressed at AIG for its handling of the executive bonus program and at other executives on Wall Street, but he did admonish them for the excess risk and reward.
"Bankers and executives on Wall Street need to realize that enriching themselves on the taxpayers' dime is inexcusable, that the days of outsized rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over," he said.
Obama urged the American people to temper their outrage.
"At the same time, the rest of us can't afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit," he said. "That drive is what has always fueled our prosperity, and it is what will ultimately get these banks lending and our economy moving once more."
Though the economy was the highlight of the night's discussions, Obama did respond to some questions related to global issues.
On the global financial crisis, the president expressed his confidence in the American dollar and said the reason it is performing well against other currencies is because "investors consider the United States the strongest economy in the world with the most stable political system in the world."
Obama said he did not believe there was a need for a global currency, pushing back against the suggestion by Chinese officials ahead of the G-20 financial summit next week in London.
While it was expected that the economy would dominate the news conference, it was noteworthy that Obama was not asked a single question about Iraq, a sharp departure from news conferences during the Bush administration.
He was also not asked about the announcement his administration is expected to make later this week on a new policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan.