Optimism and Its Impact on Health

Is your outlook positive? Do you see the glass half full rather than half empty? I recently had a discussion with my husband about this topic. I expressed worry and concern because the radiologist recommended a CT scan in six months, due to an incidental finding on my annual CT scan. WOW, one more thing to worry about. My usual coping mechanism is to consider and plan for all possibilities. What if I needed surgery? I began to visualize all aspects of this and its impact on my life.

My husband in contrast would expect the diagnostic tests to be positive. He cannot understand why I would worry. He commented that I should look at the positives.

Looking into the potential benefits of optimism

I decided to study optimism and its impact on health. Martin Seligman defined optimism and positivity as reacting to problems with a sense of confidence, an acknowledgement that negative events are temporary, limited in scope and manageable.1

Scientific studies show that optimistic people tend to live longer and have overall better physical and mental health than people who tend to think negatively. The research suggests that optimism helps people cope with disease and recover from surgery. Optimism is measured in two ways: dispositional, a tool used to measure the positive expectation over one’s future and explanatory, how a person explains good or bad news.2

Results of these studies have found that:3

  • Optimistic people experience less distress when faced with a potentially life-threatening cancer diagnosis.
  • A fighting spirit is found in optimistic people.
  • Predictive better quality of life.
  • Less disruption in normal life.
  • Optimistic outlook appears to be strongly related to a healthy immune system.

So how does one become more optimistic?

Try thinking positive thoughts. I try to find something to look forward to each day. Stop comparing yourself in a competitive way. We are individuals and react differently. Find good in every situation, even in difficult moments. While I wasn't happy about my need for an early CT scan, I am hoping I will now be able to wait a year until the next one. When faced with a challenge, focus on obtaining a positive outcome, rather than expecting something negative to happen. This is something that I need to work on. I will try to focus on the positive results of my CT scan. Find the meaning and purpose of your life. My faith has provided great support for me. I am trying to “let go, let God.” Try to improve your physical health. I have included exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep in my routine.4

So, I have learned that optimism can be a tool to help keep us healthy and happy. I am making a commitment to try the above strategies and become more optimistic like my husband. I am happy to report that my CT scan was negative and hope that my next one will not be until next year.

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