Optimism According to Science

Daniela Andarcia · 7 April, 2021
Being optimistic can prolong your life, reduce stress levels, and improve your emotional health. We show you in detail how positive thinking can impact your life.

An optimistic mindset and its other side of the coin, pessimistic or defeatist, could have a significant impact on physical and mental health. The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study that showed that women who tended to be optimistic had a lower risk of dying from multiple diseases.

Patiently waiting for positive results in the future, far from wanting something magical to make our problems go away, is associated with making difficulties more bearable and dealing with problems more productively.

There is indeed a link between optimism and good health… Discover optimism from the perspective of science!

The impact of optimism on health

Some of the advantages that optimism can bring are the following:

Longer longevity

Optimism can increase life expectancy.
Life expectancy and quality of life can improve considerably with an optimistic attitude.

A compilation of studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences followed 69,744 women for more than 10 years and 1,429 men for more than 30 years, in order to find the relationship between optimism and a longer life.

The team of researchers found that women and men who had higher levels of optimism lived an average of 11 to 15% longer than those with lower levels of optimism.

It was also revealed that women and men with greater optimism were 50% and 70% more likely to turn 85 years of age.

The reasons for this could be many, but researchers believe the most plausible one is that optimistic people tend to engage in health-promoting behavior, such as more outdoor activity, and to have fewer vices such as smoking.

Another reason that could be associated is that optimists have a greater ability to regulate emotions effectively. As a result, they can recover more easily from stressful situations.

Having a better state of health

Optimism is believed to make people more aware of their health, leading them to become more informed on the subject.

An investigation by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that optimists were concerned with finding out how and why heart attacks occur, what the risk factors are for stress, and even the conditions caused by alcohol consumption.

Optimistic people aren’t only concerned with being informed about relevant health topics. The same study found that these people tended to exercise more, choose more balanced foods (rich in protein and minerals) and, in addition, have a better sleep quality.

Finding more effective methods

Being optimistic doesn’t exempt you from facing tribulations, a chronic illness, or an accident. However, the way you think makes a difference in how you cope.

A study in Personality and Social Psychology Review revealed that optimism promotes the use of more assertive strategies to cope with the problem or reduce the severity.

The mind of an optimist seems to be more focused on seeking, understanding, and having options to solve the problem, and from there to choose the most suitable strategy, which allows them to have a greater sense of control and ownership in the face of a difficult circumstance.

Having better support in adverse situations

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that optimists tend to have stronger relationships and surround themselves less with negative social interactions.

They also have a greater ability to maintain long-term friendships and, therefore, in adverse situations, they count on, and receive, more support when compared to the social relationships of a pessimistic person.

This could be because people prefer to sympathize more with those who have positive thoughts, than with people who have recurring negative thoughts.

However, even being an optimistic person in circumstances where they don’t receive adequate support, a positive thought will make them believe that they feel satisfied with their social relationships and with the support that could have been given, when in reality it may not have been favorable.

Greater achievement and persistence

Performance could be associated with optimistic thinking. A study with athletes found that those who were led to believe that they were performing badly with their own personal records were more likely to lower their performance in the future, compared to teams that were encouraged to perform well.

The belief and confidence of being able to reach a goal allows the individual, through positive thoughts, to go through difficulties, obstacles, challenges, or stumbling blocks with greater success, thus becoming a persistent and resilient person.

Better emotional health

Research published in Psychiatric Clinics of North America found that rethinking or changing a person’s perspective of thinking with cognitive therapy could be just as effective as antidepressant medications. Furthermore, it also suggests that cognitive therapy is more effective in the long term.

People who undergo this type of therapy tend to have greater control of their emotions and setbacks that may arise in the future. Therefore, it may not only be optimism that improves, but they will also maintain good emotional health.

Some tips for practicing cognitive restructuring include the following:

  • Take some time and identify what situation is generating negative thoughts or moods.
  • Evaluate the feelings that are coming your way.
  • Allow thoughts to flow, and identify negative thoughts that are emerging as a result of the situation.
  • Eliminate the arguments that show, support, or refute negative thoughts.
  • Plan a realistic objective or goal that will solve your situation, and replace negative thoughts with the new project.

Greater stress management

Much stress in life? You need to increase optimism.
People who suffer from constant stress can see their symptoms improved with an optimistic attitude and relaxation techniques.

When pessimistic people are compared with optimists, the latter have greater stress management.

One reason is that optimism allows the individual to develop greater self-confidence. You also have the belief that you can cope with setbacks, and that there are more positive events to come in the future than negative ones.

In addition, they tend to reduce or eliminate stressors and emotional consequences.

Less cognitive impairment

Having an optimistic partner could bring many health benefits. Among these, the decrease in cognitive deterioration stands out, as stated in a study carried out by the Journal of Personality.

This research consisted of following 4,457 heterosexual couples for 8 years. Here it was concluded that optimism, both individually and as a couple, is positively associated with cognitive functioning. In this way, it allows adults to maintain less deterioration and greater cognitive function as they age.

It is believed that by having an optimistic partner, more activities will be carried out that benefit overall health. More outings in the fresh air, a good exercise routine, and a good diet reduce the factors associated with cognitive decline.

Potential dangers of optimism

Optimism is generally associated with positive aspects that contribute beneficially to physical and mental health. However, it isn’t without its disadvantages. These could be:

  • Optimism bias: Tending to have excessive optimism could lead to overvaluing positive experiences to the detriment of negative experiences arising. Underestimating that bad things can happen can invalidate planning correctly for reality.
  • Poor risk assessment: Excessive optimism can veil your reality, making it impossible to mitigate possible risks in some decision-making. In these circumstances, you are prone to failure or at least not taking into account that you may suffer.
  • Toxic positivity: Suppressing negative feelings completely may not always be a viable option. Be careful that positive thoughts don’t make it impossible for you to recognize the difficulties of the situation. Staying positive and ignoring other emotions may not be beneficial to your health.

A behavior with multiple benefits

Optimism can be understood as a favorable way of life in many respects. The degree to which a person expresses it is usually the consequence of multiple environmental (including previous experiences) and genetic factors, but, in any case, this behavior can be modulated and acquired. Mental therapy in the latter case can be helpful.

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