I recently read the results of a cross-sectional observational study where researchers analyzed 4,919 adults ages 18–75 of the Hispanic/Latino community residing in the United States. The study offers preliminary evidence for an association between optimism and cardiovascular health.
According to the American Heart Association, depression is now a cardiovascular disease risk factor, joining the ranks of traditional markers such as diabetes and hypertension.
Most of us would say that it’s easy to be optimistic when you’re rich. We can arrive at an educated conclusion that having socio-economic needs met promotes being more optimistic, which then predisposes people to be more engaged with their health, exercising, and eating better. Conversely, when socio-economic criteria are not met, the experience of illness, lack of energy, and poor physical health can contribute to a more pessimistic outlook on life.
I think it is a greater challenge to stay optimistic, particularly within our marginalized populations, so I was interested to find out who of America’s poor are the most optimistic.
I came across an article written by Dr. Carol Graham, a Leo Pasvolsky Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. In it, she paints a vivid picture of America’s increase in what she calls “deaths of despair.” Graham states, “Caused by the opioid addiction, alcohol or drug overdose and suicide, these deaths have hit middle-aged white people without a college education particularly hard. The trend is extensive enough to have driven up the overall mortality rate in the U.S., in the unusual position of being a rich country where life expectancy is falling rather than going up.”
Graham’s research revealed that the people who are the most optimistic about their future earning less than $24,000 a year, which is the official poverty line, were poor black Americans, even slightly more optimistic than rich black people.
Further research explains that for many years blue-collar white workers had significant advantages over minorities, but now that is changing. With unstable employment, they are reporting their lives are worse than their parents’ lives were. In contrast, Hispanics and Blacks report their lives are far better than their parents’ lives were. Another factor noted by Graham’s research is higher levels of resilience among poor minorities, due to generations of resilience built up over hardships from poor countries.
In the end, the link between optimism and well-being is strong. Depression, stress, and worry are closely linked to a greater risk of premature death, regardless of race or income. Maintaining a positive outlook can determine the extent of your life.
If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, Dr. Carol Graham wrote a book titled “Happiness For All.” In it, she highlights the importance of well-being measures in identifying and monitoring trends in life satisfaction, and optimism, misery, and despair, and demonstrates how hope and happiness can lead to improved economic and health outcomes.