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Optimism and Your Health

Our Collective Mood

Numerous studies have shown that optimistic people are healthier than pessimistic people. It is suggested that optimists have better ways of coping with stress, and consequently have more stable blood pressure, stress hormones, and heart rate. It is probable that optimists are more likely to take care of their health because they believe in the potential positive outcomes. Consider also that optimistic people are more likely to build better social networks and be more likable than pessimists, factors that been have been associated with health and longevity.

Photo by Peter Lloyd on Unsplash

Scientists say there are two types of optimism, dispositional and explanatory. Dispositional optimism is based on positive expectations for one’s future. These are not confined to one or two aspects of life, but are generalized expectations for a good outcome in several areas of life. Explanatory style is based on how a person explains good or bad news. The pessimist assumes blame for bad news, believes the situation is permanent and that events will affect everything they do–a global impact on one’s life. The optimist does not assume all blame for negative events, but sees them as transitory and having little or nothing to do with all aspects of their lives. They also tend to give themselves credit for good news, assume good things will last, and be confident that positive developments will spill over into many areas of their life.

In one study, the habitual way in which individuals explain bad events were extracted from questionnaires filled out by a group of 25 year-old graduates of the Harvard University class of 1942-1944. Physical health from ages 30 to 60, was measured by physical examination, and was related to earlier explanatory style. Pessimistic explanatory style predicted poor health at ages 45 through 60.  There are other studies which show that, conversely, dispositional optimism has been linked with improved recovery rates after surgery and improved survival rates from cancer, besides improved general health. Interestingly enough, one study suggested that a society’s optimism quotient (so to speak) affects the mood and I suggest, movement, of that society. The study states, “Shifts to a more optimistic style in Lyndon Johnson’s press conferences predicted bold, risky action during the Vietnam War, whereas shifts to pessimism predicted passivity. Second, analyses of presidential candidates’ nomination acceptance speeches from 1948 to 1984 showed that candidates who were more pessimistically ruminative lost 9 of the 10 elections.” We are affected as a society by our country’s collective mood, which, of course, begins with the individual’s mood. Let’s have it be positive.

Do you know which one you are, an optimist or pessimist? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are hardships learning experiences?
  • If today was tough, will tomorrow be better?
  • When a project doesn’t go well, do you give up easily or do you persevere knowing it work out?
  • Do you see negative setbacks as minor setbacks?

Many people find it easier to focus on the negative chatter in their heads rather than the positive perhaps because they don’t feel they deserve the positive. Look honestly at areas that you could improve and work on them, but focus on your attributes. You have many. Keep in mind that the more you practice challenging your thought patterns, the more automatic they will become. Don’t expect major changes in thinking right away, but know they will become ingrained over time. Remember that virtually any failure or negative situation can be a learning experience, and a step toward your next success. Write positive thoughts on post-its and place them here and there to remind yourself to be positive. Read uplifting books or listen to uplifting podcasts. Affirmations are powerful!

You’ll feel and actually be healthier when you’re optimistic. Whether or not you agree with his hopeful outlook may tell you something about your self!

“Twixt the optimist and pessimist

 The difference is droll

 The optimist sees the doughnut

 But the pessimist sees the hole.”

McLandburgh Wilson

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