Portrait Of Female Owner Of Gift Store With Digital TabletAre you a ‘glass half full’ or a ‘glass half empty’ sort of person? Scientific research shows ‘you are how you feel’. And, depending on your attitude towards life, you could be helping or hurting your well being. 

Google “optimism” and find: “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.”

Google “pessimism” and find: “a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen; a lack of hope or confidence in the future.”

Which one better describes how you feel now, and for the future? If you answered “pessimism”, here’s some data that may help change your mind.

Unhealthy Outcomes For Unhealthy Minds

From a Harvard Medical School article citing various scientific studies:

  • 309 middle-aged patients were to undergo coronary artery bypass surgery. Before the procedure, each patient took a psychological evaluation to measure optimism, depression, neuroticism, and self-esteem. Researchers tracked each patient for six months after surgery. At that point, the researchers discovered those who were more optimistic from the initial evaluation were only half as likely to end up back in the hospital compared to the pessimists.
  • 298 angioplasty patients were followed over a six-month period, post surgery. As it turned out, the pessimists ended up back in the hospital at a 3 times greater rate than the optimists. 

But pessimism does not affect only cardiovascular health.

  • In 2006, scientists conducted a “sneaky” test. They wanted to see how personality styles (positive or negative) impacted viral symptoms. After concluding personality tests on 193 healthy volunteers, the scientists gave each volunteer a common respiratory virus. The results? Those displaying a “positive” personality style had less viral symptoms than the “negative” personalities.

With all being equal, it appears that “pessimism” affects overall health. What’s more eye-opening is how it affects longevity, too.

  • In the mid-1960’s, 6,959 students at the University of North Carolina took a comprehensive personality test.  Over the next 40 years, 476 died.  Of the deceased, the most pessimistic [according to the 1960’s test] had a 42% higher death rate than the most optimistic. And this is not just an American phenomenon.
  • A Dutch study followed 941 men and women, age 65 to 85 years old.  Those who were more optimistic at the beginning of the study had a 45% lower risk of death over the nine year follow-up period.

The University of Rochester Medical Center concurs with these studies.  They cite how researchers reviewed over 80 studies to see how pessimism affected physical health.  The review’s findings [from the 80 studies] showed that those who were more positive in life had betteroverall longevity, survival from a disease, heart health, immunity, cancer outcomes, pregnancy outcomes, pain tolerance and other health topics.”

Pessimism clearly affects our physical health. More and more studies show the more pessimistic, the worse our physical state.  This holds true for people who are already suffering from health ailments as well.

What’s the explanation?

How can our mindset influence our health risks? Much if it has to do with the physiological impact that negativity places on the body.  In short, stress from the negativity can wreak havoc on our cells. And that stress produces the negative outcomes.

When we are stressed, our body must tolerate more inflammation. That’s because the stress hormone, cortisol, courses through our veins and can wear down cells through inflammation. This inflammation creates a chain reaction of negative events in the body. It affects heart, bones, liver, skin, joint and pretty much all other physical problems.    

The reverse is also true.  Women with a more positive outlook had lower levels of inflammation (measured through C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 levels). These two inflammation measures predict the likelihood of heart attack and stroke. 

Both men and women had lower cortisol levels when they showed more optimism in a 2008 standardized test.  These results also considered possible influential variables such as age, employment, income, ethnicity, obesity, smoking and depression. 

We can truly “think ourselves” into poor health even while making other lifestyle choices.

How can we be more optimistic? 

Saying there’s an easy way might be a stretch. It all depends upon the mindset and the sort of thoughts in which we are already predisposed.  Nonetheless, when trying tips to be more positive, we can see and feel the difference in our life:

  1. Be Conscious Of  Our Thoughts. It’s difficult to fix something if not knowing it’s an issue.  That’s why it’s important to stop now and then, and take stock of our reaction to certain events (particularly the ones that do not go our way). If there’s a tendency to have a negative reaction to these events, there’s the opportunity to be more optimistic going forward. This is the path to better health!
  2. Try Thinking PositiveWhile it could feel odd to start, it doesn’t hurt to try thinking more positive. If someone cancels an appointment, it provides the opportunity of freedom to finish or do something else. 
  3. Stop Making Comparisons.  It’s natural to have the emotions of jealousy or anger when comparing ourselves to others. We all have different stories, different strengths and different roles in this world. Though the feelings are natural, they are not productive and will not help. Appreciate what we have and let it be a reminder that things could be worse. 
  4. Surround Ourselves With PositivenessThere’s always at least one friend who’s fun, cheerful and positive to be around. If so, it’s a good idea to spend more time together. Their positiveness can be infectious and rub off more than is realized. They will either consciously or subconsciously radiate happiness. Plus, it’s good to laugh more, too!
  5. Practice GratitudeThis is a great exercise. Sit down with a pen and paper.  Write down three things of gratefulness. Doing this everyday can make us feel better and experience the positive affects in life.