When nothing in your life makes any sense, and everything looks bleak, how do you summon the strength to keep going? Why do some people triumph over seemingly impossible odds while others collapse into despair?
External circumstances do matter, but those who power on despite hardships have one quality others lack — when life hands them lemons, they build a lemonade stand. It turns out that looking at the bright side can also benefit your well-being. What are the health benefits of optimism, and how can you brighten your outlook?
The Many Health Benefits of Optimism
People with a sunny outlook tend to live longer and enjoy their time on earth more thoroughly. What’s the science behind the magic? Consider the following health benefits.
It Improves Cardiovascular Health
Researchers from Harvard and Boston University wanted to discover if optimism could reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. They examined over 1,000 healthy male volunteers with an average age of 61. None of the participants had heart disease at the study’s onset. By the end of the 10-year study period, those with pessimistic outlooks were twice as likely to develop problems than optimists. This effect persisted even when scientists took other risk factors into account.
Scientists also discovered that optimistic individuals have lower blood pressure, which reduces their risk of heart attack and stroke considerably. In one Finnish study of over 600 men, those who were pessimistic were three times more likely to develop high blood pressure than optimists. The impact occurred even after researchers took into account risk factors like smoking, alcohol use, obesity and family history.
It Increases Longevity
A sunny outlook can help you live longer, even if you have survived cancer. Several studies reveal that an optimistic outlook at disease onset was a strong predictor of long-term positive outcomes in cancer patients. It is challenging to avoid falling into despair when you get such a diagnosis, but the right attitude can heal.
Optimism can also help your immune system function better. Researchers evaluated 124 incoming law students by giving them an optimism assessment. They then inserted a dose of dead mumps or candida yeast under the skin of their forearms. Over the year, as student optimism levels rose, so did their immune response. However, when they felt more negative, their systems responded more sluggishly.
It Improves Mental Health
Many mental health issues grow worse if you have a pessimistic outlook. Those with depression often feel like the world is out to get them and that nothing they do makes a difference. Those with more optimistic attitudes have a more internal locus of control, meaning that they believe their actions will lead to more positive outcomes. They say things like, “I know fixing this problem is up to me,” and they proceed accordingly.
It Leads to Better Lifestyle Choices
Because optimists believe that their actions matter, they’re more likely to make healthy choices overall. If a pessimist suffers a setback, such as a job loss, they might resort to behaviors like substance abuse to ease their pain. Unfortunately, this decision can lead to addiction and other health woes. An optimist will seek out coping mechanisms like meditation and yoga that let them process challenging emotions without doing damage to themselves — and their future job prospects.
How to Cultivate More Optimism
The best news of all? You can train yourself to cultivate more optimism in your life. Take the following five steps:
- Identify your triggers: What sets you into a negative thought spiral? If you can identify the things that plunge you into despair, you can take affirmative actions to control your thought patterns.
- Reframe negative thoughts: Is it true that the mistake you made on your expense report will cost you your job and result in homelessness? Isn’t it more likely that you owe your supervisor an apology and a promise to avoid such errors in the future?
- Follow a healthy lifestyle: It’s challenging to think positively when your mind is clouded with drugs and alcohol. Likewise, if you feel sluggish and sick from an unhealthy diet, it’s natural to feel more pessimistic. Practice self-care.
- Surround yourself with positivity: The company you keep influences your outlook. This advice doesn’t mean abandoning your friends when they hit a rough patch, but it does require limiting your time spent with Negative Nancies who see the dark side of every situation.
- Laugh often: Put on a comedy video on YouTube. Look at some funny memes that make you smile or giggle at the silly antics of your cat. Laughter is some of the best medicine.
Reap the Health Benefits of Optimism in Your Life
There are many health benefits of optimism — plus, who wants to be a grouch? Get started on your path to a more positive future and improved well-being by changing your outlook today.