Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DOES OPTIMISM MAKE YOU HEALTHY?


A few weeks ago I bookmarked a post about optimism and health. There has been some bad mouthing of looking at the bright side and positive thinking, which I don't really see as the same thing as optimism, anyway.

For instance, I don't think visualizing or making a scrapbook of things I want will bring them my way. I don't think the circumstances around leaving my job last year were "for the best" or for "a higher purpose." It was all pretty crappy and unhappy. On the other hand, I have a husband who supported me in the decision and who has worked even harder to keep us from moving into a tent city.

While I do believe that having a positive outlook is beneficial to ones health, I don't think you can fight cancer with positive thoughts or cause illness with negative ones.

That said, this latest study is interesting to me because I can answer one of their key questions. I will just quote the article here:


Study author Hilary Tindle, "On the one hand it seems intuitively obvious, but we're not there yet in terms of the evidence we need in order to say optimism causes better health outcomes. All we can say now is that optimism is associated with better health outcomes, but without following people over a lifetime, we can't say which came first." It may seem "intuitively obvious" that positive thinking makes you healthier, but it's also pretty obvious that being healthy — or at least responding well to treatment — makes you happier. Some researchers may have figured out how to separate these effects, but it does seem that many studies of positive thinking and illness would suffer from the same problem: wouldn't people who start to get better naturally feel more positive? And, in a more general way, might people who have good jobs, stable finances, and happy relationships feel more optimistic? Might optimism be the result of a good life, not the cause?


I am not going to suggest that I have had a bad life. I have overcome some challenges and I struggle, still, with others. I have never in my life had financial stability and defiantly not in the past 7 years or so. I have been married for 25 years but it has not been an especially happy one, my husband is not an easy guy to live with. My kids are great. We don't have a social life at all so I get lonely. I am overweight and working at being more healthy, a lifelong issue.


I am also a very optimistic person. I believe things will work out. When my daughter had to go to the ER, I knew it would be okay. We just had to go through the tests and see what was going on and it would be fine, and it was. When I have had health issues, I approach them the same way. No fear. No cynicism. Ask questions. Do my own research if I need to.


I can always see the upside to something because it is always there. Our lives, emotions and connections are too complex for everything to be just one thing. As awful as the destruction is in Haiti, I believe the homes and buildings in the country will be rebuilt more safely and that new industry will go in to provide better conditions and living wages because a spotlight has been shown on the country and the amazingly resilient people there.



I disagree that it takes having a "good life" in the terms laid out by this study to be happy and optimistic. I think it comes from inside a person. And if that makes a person heathier - great.

5 comments:

michiganme said...

Interesting thoughts. This is on my mind a lot too since I am a naturally optimistic person and I have a daughter who is so NOT.

I always thought that my 'sparse' upbringing made me more resilient and taught me the art of survival & improvisation. My daughter, who never went without, finds it difficult to see a silver lining in anything and often feels victimized and powerless.

So as far as mental health, my optimism has served me well. Perhaps the bottom line is, I have always had Hope. MIME

jenontheedge said...

Interesting. I used to be quite the optimist, but somehow along the way became much less so -- something I had not noticed until my husband pointed it out.

So I've been trying to be more positive and less negative and, while I wouldn't say that it hasn't radically changed my life, at the very least I'm a little happier and calmer.

waistingtime said...

I am not by nature an optimist. But I am trying. I have read that those who focus on the positives in their lives are happier! I don't think it is about circumstance. Right now I am focused on my goals to be healthy and lose weight and I keep blogging about how I will do it and can do it and hope that by picturing the outcome I want and focusing on the positive I will make it happen. But I have to keep remembering that the glass is half full.

waistingtime said...

I am not by nature an optimist. But I am trying. I have read that those who focus on the positives in their lives are happier! I don't think it is about circumstance. Right now I am focused on my goals to be healthy and lose weight and I keep blogging about how I will do it and can do it and hope that by picturing the outcome I want and focusing on the positive I will make it happen. But I have to keep remembering that the glass is half full.

Clueless said...

What I am learning is that there is a balance and that looking at things realistically is the most helpful. Having a positive attitude makes for a happier person and for those around them. But, it needs to be genuine instead of a defense against seeing the unpleasantries of reality.