Are Optimists Healthier Than Pessimists?
Are you a glass half-full person? In other words, are you hopeful and confident about the future? If so, you might be healthier than your friends who believe that the worst will happen.
Many studies have reported that optimism influences health. Among the findings:
- Highly pessimistic men were three times more likely to develop hypertension.
- People with positive emotions had lower blood pressures.
- The most pessimistic men were more than twice as likely to develop heart disease compared with the most optimistic.
It is hard to know if optimism is the result of good health, or if good health creates optimism. It is possible that optimists enjoy better health and longer lives because they lead healthy lifestyles, build strong social support networks, and get better medical care.
The positive thinking that usually comes with optimism is a key part of effective stress management.
Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Some of the benefits of positive thinking include:
- Increased life span.
- Lower rates of depression.
- Lower levels of distress—the kind of stress that causes anxiety, sorrow, or pain. In contrast, eustress is happy stress like getting married or having a child.
- Greater resistance to the common cold.
- Better psychological and physical well-being.
- Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
- Better coping skills.
Not an optimist? Don’t worry, positive thinking skills can be learned.
- Engage in more positive thinking by identifying areas of your life that you usually think negatively about. You can start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way.
- Check yourself. Stop and evaluate what you’re thinking. Are your thoughts mostly negative? If so, try to put a positive spin on them.
- Be open to humor. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor in everyday life. Ever heard of fake it ‘til you make it?’ That works with smiling and laughing. When you fake a smile or laugh, your body will release the ‘feel good’ chemicals—dopamine, endorphins and serotonin—even if you aren’t feeling the associated emotions.
- Engage in a healthy lifestyle. Exercise can positively affect mood and reduce stress. Aim to exercise for about 30 minutes on most days of the week, or break it up into 10-minute chunks of time during the day. Eat well to fuel your mind and body.
- Surround yourself with positive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people may increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress effectively.
- Practice positive self-talk. Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you. Express gratitude.