If you’re not familiar with the term dispositional optimism, it is used to measure the extent to which an individual believes that positive outcomes will occur in the future not only for themselves but also for others. To help put this into context, several decades of scientific research has shown that the positive benefits of optimism can reverberate throughout an individual’s life, affecting everything from their disposition to their overall health. In fact, there is sufficient data available for one to conclude that being an optimist could very well contribute to a longer life, improved cardiovascular health, reduced stress, and much more. In this article, we will explore the many benefits of being optimistic and how it can change your life.
While most people will agree that a positive, healthy outlook is a great way to reduce stress, many find it hard to believe that being optimistic can combat disease or speed recovery following surgery. That said, scientific data is turning many of those naysayers into believers. For example, a study published by the American Psychological Association shows that patients who were optimistic about undergoing a major surgery like a coronary artery bypass, for example, experienced few complications and often recovered faster than those who were pessimistic. The same was also shown to be true of individuals diagnosed with life-altering diseases like cancer, diabetes, and HIV. Those who were optimistic about their treatments improved significantly over those who were either pessimistic or apathetic. All in all, the nexus between good health and optimism can be attributed to the following four factors:
OPTIMIST ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR HEALTH
Not surprisingly, those who are optimistic are also very health conscious and will make it a point to stay on top of their physical, emotional, and psychological health. According to a 2002 study published by Sage Journals, individuals who are optimistic are twice as likely to lead a healthy lifestyle compared to those who are pessimistic. In most cases, they had a higher propensity for exercise, got more sleep, had fewer sexual partners, and were less likely to smoke or drink excessively. Lastly, the healthier actions of those who are optimistic have been shown to give way to even healthier outcomes, which often includes fewer health problems and living longer.
OPTIMIST ARE KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT THEIR OWN HEALTH
Statistically speaking, individuals who are optimistic are knowledgeable about what it takes to achieve and maintain good health. As such, they tend to monitor their health more closely than those who are pessimistic or have an otherwise negative outlook on life. To further illustrate this point, according to a 2002 study, which was conducted by psychologists Nathan Radcliffe and William Klein, optimist generally had a broad knowledge base when it came to factors that can increase the risk of a heart attack like excessive alcohol consumption, stress, and smoking, for example.
OPTIMISM AND SETBACKS
Research shows that those who are optimistic are better equipped to deal with setbacks and stress. They often adopt approach-focused coping strategies that enable them to confront problems head-on, which, in turn, limits the effects that they can have on their physical and emotional health. For example, an optimist diagnosed with cancer is more likely to invest time in learning more about cancer and the treatment that are available.
Also, they are more inclined to seek advice from oncologists and other healthcare professionals before starting a specific cancer remediation treatment. Unlike pessimist, individuals who are optimistic tend to take an analytic approach toward dealing with problems as opposed to becoming overwrought with emotions like fear and sadness, for example.
Studies show that adopting this mindset enables optimistic individuals to control and take ownership of problems that they are confronted with and finding solutions that work best for them. This mindset is also why optimists shape their own futures.
OPTIMISM AND SOCIAL NETWORKS
One of the best ways of growing your social network is by being optimistic. After all, people are more inclined to not only like but also gravitate towards those who they believe are optimistic and have a healthy outlook on life. That aside, they also maintain a stronger bond with the people in their lives, which includes platonic and romantic relationships.
Now that we have a general understanding of how optimism correlates with good physical and emotional health, let’s take a moment to highlight a few specific examples:
1. ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
Not surprisingly, our level of optimism dictates how we will react to stressful situations. Statistically speaking, those who are exceedingly optimistic struggle less with anxiety or depression when confronted by negative people or circumstances. It is also worth noting that optimism has been linked with feelings of invulnerability, which helps to boost self-confidence and reduce feelings of anxiety.
2. HEART HEALTH
According to a study published by the Psychological Bulletin, a publication covering evaluative and integrative research reviews as well as interpretations of issues in scientific psychology, optimism can improve heart health and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, regardless of an individual’s weight, age, and smoking habits.
3. REDUCED STRESS
When it comes to reducing stress, being optimistic can go a long way. In fact, multiple studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between thinking positive and reduced stress. In contrast, those who are pessimistic or have an overly negative outlook are not only more stressed but also more susceptible to prolonged bouts of depression and anxiety.
4. IMPROVED APPEARANCE
While improved physical health and reduced stress are both significant benefits, being optimistic can also help you age gracefully, according to data compiled by the University College London, a London-based public research university. Researchers concluded that fine lines and wrinkles are far less prominent among individuals with a positive outlook on life.
5. BETTER SELF-CARE
There is more than enough sufficient evidence to suggest that optimist do a better job when it comes to self-care in comparison to those who are pessimistic. According to Carver and Scheier’s theory of self-regulation, individuals who think positively often make it a point to take care of their bodies by eating healthy, taking vitamins, and practicing safe sex. All in all, these practices go a long way towards contributing to a longer, healthier life.
6. LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE
Along with reducing your overall sodium intake, an optimistic mindset can help lower your blood pressure, which can potentially lead to a stroke as high blood pressure is known to damage and weaken the brain’s blood vessel, often causing them to become narrow, leak and, in extreme cases, even rupture.
7. HIGH TOLERANCE FOR PAIN
Of course, for some people, this may be construed as a negative, but studies show that optimists tend to have a higher tolerance for physical and emotional pain. This higher tolerance means they are less apt to wave the proverbial white flag in the face of difficult or challenging situations.