The research is abundant and clear: Optimism is good for your physical health. An overview of some findings and the related studies:
- Optimistic mothers have longer pregnancies and deliver bigger, healthier babies.
M. Lobel, C.J. DeVincent, A. Kaminer and B.A. Meyer: The impact of prenatal maternal stress and optimistic disposition on birth outcomes in medically high-risk women. Health Psychology, 19, 2000, 544-553;
C.K. Rini, C. Dunkel-Schetter, P.D. Wadhwa and C.A. Sandman: Psychological adaptation and birth outcomes: The role of personal resources, stress and social-cultural context in pregnancy. Health Psychology, 18, 1999, 333-345.
- Optimists recover better and more quickly from surgery.
M.F. Scheier, K.A. Matthews, J.F. Owens et al: Optimism and rehospitalization following coronary artery bypass graft surgery. Archives of Internal Medicine, 159, 1999, 829-835
- In the 18 months following a major life event such as death or severe illness within the family, optimism predicts fewer sick days taken by employees.
M. Kivimaki, J. Vahtera, M. Elovanio, H. Helenius, A. Singh-Manoux, and J. Pennti: Optimism and pessimism as predictions of change of health after death or onset of severe illness in family. Health Psychology, 24, 2005, 413-421.
- Being optimistic about success in a specific and important domain promotes better immunity against some infections.
S.C. Segerstrom and S.E. Sephton: Optimitic Expectancies and Cell-Mediated Immunity, The role of positive affect. Psychological Science, 21, 2010, 448-455
- In a longitudinal study of older men and women, optimism predicted not only better health but lower levels of pain.
H. Achat, I. Kawachi, A. Spiro, D.A. les DeMol, and D. Sparrow: Optimism and depression as predictions of physical and mental health functioning: the Normative Aging Study. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 22, 2000, 127-130.
- Studies also show that optimism foreshadows good health and a long life.
C. Peterson and L.M. Bossio: Health and Optimism. Free Press, New York, 1991.
M.F. Scheier and C.S. Carver: Dispositional optimism and physical well-being: the influence of generalized outcome expectancies on health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 55, 1987, 169-210.
At the same time, pessimism has been shown to undermine health:
- Pessimists are more likely to smoke; be overweight; and have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or depressive symptoms.
Women’s Health Initiative, 2009.
- Higher levels of pessimism are linked to unfavorable immune system changes.
A.O. Donovan, J. Lin, F.S. Dhabbar, O. Wolkowitz, J.M. Tillie, E. Blackburn, and E. Epel: Pessimism correlates with leukocyte telomere shortness and elevated interleukin-6 in post-menopausal women. Brain, Behavior and Immunity, 23, 2009, 446-449.
- Individuals with high levels of pessimism and anxiety have an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
J.H. Bowber, B.R. Grosshardt, D.M. Maraganore, J.E. Ahlskog, R.C. Colligan, Y.E. Geda, T.M. Therneau, and W.A. Rocca: Movement Disorders, 25, 2010, 2105-13.
- The way people explain life events—with a positive outlook or a negative one—was directly related to their mortality.
T. Maruta, R.C. Colligan, M. Malinchoc, K.P. Offord: Optimists vs Pessimists: Survival Rate Among Medical patients over a 30-year period. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 75, 2000, 140-143.
The above is just a tiny selection of the hundreds of studies done over the past 30 years that have confirmed that the optimist’s way of life supports your health.