Research has found optimists aren’t just happier, they’re also healthier, recover from illness better and outlive those with less-than-jovial outlooks. People with positive mindsets focus on hope to improve their conditions while pessimists view their health from negative perspectives. Most people can learn how to adjust their attitude to cope with their circumstances — and improve their health in the process.
Positivity Keeps You Healthy
Optimism is a hopeful expectation about the future. Studies show positive thinkers feel better overall with fewer colds, aches, pains and injuries. They’re less likely to experience anxiety and depression. Optimists have healthier pregnancies. They exercise more and stress less during their later trimesters.
People who view life positively tend to have fewer coronary problems and strokes. Surveys show 40 to 65 percent of cancer survivors believe stress caused their illnesses, and 60 to 94 percent think their positive attitudes helped them become cancer-free. Optimists may recover more quickly from surgeries, respond better to cancer treatments and enjoy longer lifespans than their pessimistic peers.
A study compared chronically stressed dementia caregivers’ journals. People who documented their situations optimistically experienced less anxiety and insomnia than those who used less positive terms. Even study participants who didn’t feel optimistic but wrote in uplifting words felt lower stress. Positive emotions (love, nice, sweet), optimistic words (certainty, pride, win) and future tense (will, going to) helped caregivers cope better mentally.
Michael Scheier, Ph.D., head of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, studied optimism in heart and cancer patients. He concluded that optimists tend to have better coping skills, which make life’s stressors less discouraging. Besides believing their futures will be positive, they believe their actions shape their destinies. Optimists are more apt to embrace healthy diets and exercise and less likely to smoke and engage in other risky habits. They improve their prognoses by being more prone to research treatments and centers, seek the best medical care and participate in therapy actively.
How Some Terminal Patients Live Longer Than Others
When HIV-positive patients practice healthy habits, their life expectancies are nearly 80 years. An HIV study indicated that people in their 20s who described themselves in mostly positive words were more liable to live into their 80s than those with negative outlooks. Depression, stress and anxiety can harm patients’ already compromised immune systems even more. That can lead to people slacking on their medications. Psychotherapist Melissa Lopez recommends patients work with professional counselors to deal with negativity so they’ll follow their HIV prescription regimens.
Researchers studying how HIV patients deal with their thoughts observed the healing power of positive thinking. Some patients believed 90 percent of getting well was in their brains. Many viewed HIV as a tough but manageable illness instead of a death sentence. Optimists were determined not to let their condition make them ill or dominate their lives. They realized their circumstances could be much worse. Treatments were so successful that patients often remembered they had HIV only when taking daily medications.
Why Your Realistic Outlook Is Really Killing You
Studies suggest negative thinking can lead to mental, emotional and physical distress for pessimists and people they encounter because gloomy attitudes are contagious. Scheier associates avoiding and ignoring health challenges with increased distress, anxiety and depression. Research linked excessive use of first-person singular written words (I, me, mine) and negative emotions (hurt, worried, fearful, nervous) to depression. Negative personality types have increased risks for depression and other psychiatric illnesses.
Pessimism affects physical health negatively as well. A knee replacement study found pessimists suffered significantly more moderate to severe pain two years after surgery. Studies show negative thinking can impact disease sufferers’ health and well-being seriously. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with negative outlooks have greater dementia and Parkinson’s disease risks in later life.
How to Boost Your Optimism
Suzanne Segerstrom, Ph.D., claims optimism is only about 25 percent genetic. Follow her steps to become a more positive thinker.
Set goals. Whether your challenges are large or small, do them just for yourself. You’ll be more successful if you pursue healthy habits like exercising regularly and quitting smoking for yourself instead of someone else.
Be persistent. Positive expectations promote motivation and hard work. Persistence, not cheerfulness or luck, helps optimists triumph. Take action to achieve your goals even when you think your efforts are futile.
Tackle problems head on. Resolve crises when they occur instead of accepting them as your fate. Define your problems and develop solutions. Positive results may encourage you to continue this healthy practice.
Adjust your perspective. If a solution fails, appreciate its upsides. Studies show finding benefits in chronic illnesses helps patients cope. They suffer less depression when realizing their diagnoses enhance their family connections, allow them to appreciate life or encourage them to let go of insignificant concerns.
Imagine the worst. Instead of focusing on vague fears that increase anxiety, Wellesley College psychology professor Julie K. Norem, Ph.D., author of “The Positive Power of Negative Thinking,” advises preparing for setbacks. Rehearsing mentally how you’ll respond to challenges can prepare you to cope with adversity while reducing your anxiety.
Choose words carefully. Every time you think or write a negative word about your health, replace it with a positive one. Shifting your mindset and behavior can help you become more optimistic and reap the health benefits of positive thinking.
Though optimism itself isn’t going to cure cancer, when used in conjunction with doctor-prescribed treatments, positive thinking has a significant impact on a patient’s healing.