What are the health advantages of optimism and how does one adopt an optimistic approach to life?
- Optimism is the belief that things will work out in the best possible manner. Optimists tend to believe that they will successfully overcome obstacles and will achieve their goals. For example: optimists under-estimate their risk of getting sick and over-estimate their chances of getting better.
- Optimists believe that failure is caused due to situations that are passing, specific, and external to them. The pessimist will mostly claim what happened was his own fault.
- Many extensive studies show that optimists tend to deal better with pressurized situations, recover more quickly from acute medical events, and adjust better to chronic illness. After having bypass surgery or a biopsy, optimists heal faster and have a lower risk of being re-hospitalized. Optimists generally have less psychological stress when undergoing fertility treatment.
- One study that measured heart and vascular functioning of optimists found that optimists did better than pessimists for both heart and vascular functioning. This study, which measured 5,100 people’s blood pressure, weight, height, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels, revealed that the optimists were 76% more likely to have good measurements.
- Another study shows that people with a positive life outlook had a healthier heart and immune system, a higher tolerance for pain, and recovered more quickly from cancer. Researchers in Ben-Gurion University found that optimistic women had a lower risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer and women that went through trauma (which can lead to a loss of optimism) had a risk factor for breast cancer tens of percentage points higher.
- More than that, a long-term study that included 900 seniors found that the higher their optimism was the lower the chance was that they would die within the next ten years. The impact optimism has on physical health is especially strong and the benefits of having an optimistic outlook are considered equal to quitting smoking!
Okay, I’m convinced. Now how can I adopt an optimistic approach to life?
Recognizing the Good – Are you aware of the good things in your life? Write up a list and identify all the positive things in all your various circles of life. Give thanks and share your experience with your friends.
Make Lemons into Lemonade – Negative experiences are an unavoidable part of our lives. Reframe them in a positive light by asking these questions. Can this be interpreted in a more positive way? Could any good come out of this? Is there an opportunity hidden here? What can I learn from this that I can use later?
Sort out your Thoughts – Focus your thoughts on things that are difficult for you. What thoughts crop up in your mind? Are there many thoughts running around up there or is it one constant nagging thought? Try to think about these problems in a rational manner instead of responding emotionally.
Worries and Fears Are the Enemies of Optimism – Treat debilitating thoughts like background noise, like voices coming from a radio in your vicinity. You can hear them but do not focus on them. Show yourself that you are not listening.
Got a Pessimism Attack? – Do not fight it. Do not judge your thoughts. If you relate to them with curiosity and forgiveness you will cope with them better. Even so, try to steer your mind back on track, focusing on the good. Every time your thoughts go to negative places recognize it and refocus your attention with mindful contemplation.