We all know the person who's always positive. They bounce into the office with a big smile on their face, they're always talking about how excited they are for life, and to them, no matter what comes, the glass is always half-full. It seems like a wonderful way to live – but is it? What kind of effect does being optimistic actually have on your life? And more importantly, if there is a positive effect, how can you use this knowledge to change your own life?
What is optimism?
Optimism is a person's ability to find the silver lining. In an uncertain situation, an optimistic person will assume that everything will turn out for the best. When bad things happen, an optimist doesn't blame themselves or others and they assume that things will turn around. Conversely, when something bad happens, a pessimist will blame themselves or others, regardless of whether it was their fault or not, and they will assume that the situation is permanent. While some people may be predisposed to optimism, virtually everyone can cultivate it if they're willing to put in the effort. But just what kind of health impact will cultivating optimism have on your life?
The Health Benefits of Optimism
In some studies, optimism has been associated with a reduced risk of stroke and a reduced risk of cancer, though it's unclear at this point how strong the correlation may be. Optimistic people are also at a reduced risk of developing hypertension, which is a major risk for cardiovascular diseases. This could be because optimistic people tend to choose healthier lifestyles – they're more likely to exercise and eat better than non-optimists.
Of course, there's more to health than the physical components, and optimism may play a critical role in your mental health. In a Harvard study, it is suggested that those who actively cultivate optimism are better at coping with disease and tend to have a quicker recovery after surgical procedures. An optimistic outlook early in life is also linked to better health and a lower rate of death in the following 15 to 40 years.
If you're an optimist, the results are looking pretty good for you – but you already knew that! For the rest of us, cultivating optimism could be part of a mentally and physically healthy lifestyle. So what steps do you need to take to become more optimistic?
It all starts with gratitude. Optimists have the innate ability to appreciate and be grateful for the things that life gives them – even the challenges. They're naturals at spinning a negative into a positive. If you're not naturally an optimist, this may be difficult, but it is possible. Perhaps you start by keeping a gratitude journal and listing everything you're grateful for each day. It can be as simple as being grateful for a sunny day and having family who loves you.
Optimism is Healthy
If you want a better life, it's time to start seeing the glass as half full, to make lemonade when life gives you lemons, and to stop making mountains out of molehills. Work to become more optimistic and your health will thank you!