Fall 2013 Edition
Optimism is Good for Your Health
According to the latest research, optimistic people are healthier and live longer than pessimists:
- In 2010, researchers studied the results of 83 scientific studies measuring the impact of
optimism on physical health. Whether an individual study looked at overall longevity,
survival from a disease, heart health, immunity, cancer outcomes, pregnancy
outcomes, pain tolerance, or another health topic, those who had a more optimistic
outlook performed better and had a better outcome than those who were pessimistic.
- A 2006 study looked at nearly 7,000 students who had taken a psychological test when
they enrolled at the University of North Carolina in the 1960’s. Among the most
pessimistic third of the subjects, the death rate over the next 40 years was 42% higher
when compared to the most optimistic third.
- In a study of 1,000 men and women aged 65 to 85, after nearly 10 years of follow up,
those who described themselves as “highly optimistic” had a 55% lower risk of death
from all causes, when compared to those who were termed “very pessimistic.”
Some may believe that optimists are unrealistic people who ignore reality, but numerous studies report otherwise. Far from living life with blinders on, it is optimists who confront trouble head-on while pessimists bury their heads in denial and avoidance. In a study of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, the women with an optimistic disposition were more likely to acknowledge the seriousness of the disease and took more active steps to cope with it. Several studies have shown that optimistic breast cancer patients have better health outcomes than pessimistic and hopeless patients.
Researchers say several factors may explain the link between optimism, better health and longer life.
- Optimism is associated with living healthier – more physical activity, less smoking,
moderate use of alcohol, following their doctors advice more faithfully, etc.
- Optimistic people tend to have more friends and a larger social network to rely on
- Optimists handle stress better, a risk factor associated with high blood pressure, heart
disease and other risk factors that adversely affect health and longevity.
More benefits of optimism
By almost every measure, optimists fair better than pessimists, whether it’s work, school, sports or relationships. They get depressed less often than pessimists do, make more money and have happier marriages. Optimists don’t give up as easily as pessimists and they are more likely to achieve success because of it. They see negative events as minor setbacks to be overcome and view positive events as evidence of more good things to come. Believing in themselves, optimists also take more risks and create more positive events in their lives.
What makes optimism so optimal?
According to psychologist Suzanne Segerstrom, optimism is not just about feeling positive. It’s also about being motivated and persistent. In her book, Breaking Murphy’s Law: How Optimists Get What They Want From Life – and Pessimists Can Too, Segerstrom explains that optimists tend to deal with problems head-on. Instead of walking away, they plan a course of action, seek advice from others, and stay focused on solutions. Segerstrom also says that optimists tend to expect a good outcome, and even when they don’t get it, they find ways to learn and grow from the negative experience. Optimists believe their actions shape their destinies. This may be why optimists are more likely to eat right and exercise and are less likely to smoke or engage in other unhealthy habits. When an optimist does get sick, he/she is more apt to research the ailment, seek appropriate medical care and actively participate in treatment – all of which may improve her/his prognosis.
10 tips to increase optimism
So what if you are a pessimist or not as optimistic as you’d like to be? No matter what your outlook is, studies show that optimism can be learned and improved. The following strategies can help you decrease pessimistic thinking and increase optimism:
1. Notice your negative self-talk – Become aware of the negative scripts that you are playing in your mind and constantly play. Self-talk such as, “I can’t do that. I’m not good enough to…I’m afraid to…” Track your thoughts on a daily basis and notice the negative assumptions and conclusions that you draw. Identifying your negative self-talk is essential to change.
2. Capitalize on the power of positive thinking – When you find yourself saying something negative, think of something positive to say even if it doesn’t “ring true” to you at the moment. Segerstrom says that even if you’re not completely “feeling it,” you should “fake it until you make it.” By merely acting more optimistic, you’re likely to be more engaged in the process and the outcome and are less likely to give up after an initial failure. Replace phrases such as “I can’t…” or “That is never going to work” with “I’ll try…” or “Let’s see how that will work out.”
3. Reframe how you define events – Instead of dwelling on a bad experience, analyze it to figure out what good can come out of it. What can you learn from the experience that will help you grow from it? Virtually any “failure” can be turned into a learning experience, which increases your potential for success in the future.
4. Focus on the here-and-now – Avoid dwelling on negative past experiences. If you face a difficult situation, determine the cause, take corrective action and move forward. Too much obsessing about the past can paralyze you, just when positive action is what is most needed.
5. Be realistic and expect ups and downs – Just because you’re an optimist doesn’t mean you’re not going to have bad days. Setbacks happen to everyone. When things go wrong, learn from what went wrong and move forward with a new determination to make things turn out better.
6. Focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t – Pessimism is impractical because it causes you to spend time dwelling on negative things that haven’t happened yet, while simultaneously preventing you from taking effective action in the present. Recognize the things you can’t control, let these go and focus your energy and thoughts on the things that you can control to affect the best outcome possible.
7. Set and pursue goals – How can you keep from being immobilized by pessimistic thinking? By taking action, even if you think it might be futile. Determine what is important to you and set meaningful goals. Create and write down a step-by-step plan for accomplishing your goal and then take the first step. Even if you’re worried about doing something new, just give it a go. With planning and persistence, you chances of succeeding are greatly enhanced.
8. Be persistent – It’s persistence that paves the optimists path, says Segerstrom. Optimists believe they will eventually succeed, so they keep plugging away at their goals. “Positive expectations fuel motivation and hard work,” Segerstrom explains. “negative expectations have the exact opposite effect.” Optimists keep going. When they succeed they try harder. When they fail, they try again.
9. Surround yourself with positive people – Optimism is a learned habit and can be contagious. Surround yourself with supportive friends who have positive outlooks. Avoid negative people whenever possible, and if you can’t avoid them, develop strategies to help you limit your exposure to them as much as possible.
10. Focus on the positive – Keep a diary of all of the good things in your life. Spend a few minutes at the end of your day writing down your positive experiences. This exercise will help you end each day on a strong, positive note.
Your EAP is here to help
Remember, your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is available to help you or your dependents with any personal, family or work-related concern. If you or a family member needs help, why not call an EAP counselor today? We’re here to help you.