Glass half empty or half full? Optimists have long known the benefits to positive thinking on one’s general outlook and mood. Recent medical findings indicate that a healthy and positive attitude may also contribute to a healthier and longer life.
A Harvard study of over 70,000 women found that those who scored higher on an optimism scale were significantly less likely to die from various illnesses, such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, respiratory illness and infection, than those who scored lower.
This, and other studies linking optimism with heart issues and overall mental health, suggest that a positive attitude affects how one chooses to respond to one’s life and health. These findings make connections to other factors, all having an effect on an improved healthier lifestyle.
Why? Healthy Traits of Optimistic People
Optimists tend to share certain behaviours and attitudes that are indicators of a healthy lifestyle. These same traits often enable people to deal with and recover from illnesses.
- Self-knowledge and awareness of one’s body. Studies have shown that optimists tend to be more aware of health issues and what they need to do to stay healthy and tend to track their health more closely.
- Healthier behaviours. This same knowledge leads to better lifestyle habits. The same study demonstrated that optimistic people were less likely to smoke and use alcohol to excess, had better diets, got more sleep, and were more inclined to exercise regularly.
- Use of methods to deal with potential setbacks. When optimistic people do encounter setbacks, such as illness or trauma, they tend to use better coping mechanisms to face these stressors, improving their likelihood of recovery. These include approach-focused coping strategies such as researching their illnesses, maintaining a positive attitude and not using disengagement tactics, such as ignoring the problem.
- Social networks. Having a support system, especially in difficult times, is a big part of recovery, and it is also part of a regular healthy lifestyle. Optimists tend to have larger numbers of friends and stronger relationships. These enable one to maintain a positive outlook, and also ensure support and assistance during times of illness or stress.
How to Increase Healthy Optimism
Just as we can learn healthy habits and behaviours in an effort to improve well-being, an optimistic outlook can be nurtured and developed. The leaders of the Harvard study note that a positive attitude can be fostered and offer a few suggestions:
- Accentuate the positive. Dwell on the good in your life. Make a point to take a daily tally of the positives when reviewing your day. Consider keeping a gratitude journal. Sometimes writing these moments down is a good way of highlighting them.
- Eliminate the negative. Make a point of derailing negative thoughts. Banish your “inner critic” by switching tracks to an activity or thought that gives you a sense of satisfaction.
- Act locally. If concern over global affairs is ruining your positivity, try doing something on a local or community level to make a small difference. Volunteerism or any other way of giving or sharing your time or talents can be a good mood and esteem booster, as well as a way of helping others.
- Be easy on yourself. Keep those healthy habits, such as exercise, sleep, and a good diet. Not only do they lead directly to better health, but they will make you feel better about yourself and nurture positivity. Forgive yourself for wrongs you feel you have done, either real or imaginary.
- Learn mindfulness. Focus on the present. Live for the moment.
Add this prescription for optimism to your glass to keep it “half-full” of positivity! Not only will your outlook be rosier, but it may even lead to a longer and healthier life!