We all know quite a few people that have gone through cancer, a life-threatening accident, dealt with a very sick child, or living with heart related issues. Isn’t it amazing to see how people respond so differently. When someone deals with one of these challenges with an optimistic attitude, it is so inspiring. Watching someone recently diagnosed with cancer, and hearing them share it is treatable and curable can be astounding. This article can encourage you to do your best to stay positive.
An optimistic outlook has also been shown to combat stress — a known risk factor for a lot of disease. Studies have found that people with stronger positive emotions have lower levels of chemicals associated with inflammation related to stress. Also, by adopting a positive attitude people may even be able to undo some of the physical damage caused by stress. Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reviews the existing research on how positive emotions can influence health outcomes in later adulthood. “We all age. It is how we age, however, that determines the quality of our lives,” said Anthony Ong of Cornell University, author of the review article. The data he reviews suggest that positive emotions may be a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and illness.
There are several pathways through which a positive attitude can protect against poor health later in life. For example, happier people might take a proactive approach to aging by regularly exercising and budgeting time for a good night’s sleep. Alternately, these people may avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and risky sex. The benefits of these healthy lifestyle choices may become more important in older adults, as their bodies become more susceptible to disease.
An optimistic outlook has also been shown to combat stress — a known risk factor for a lot of disease. Studies have found that people with stronger positive emotions have lower levels of chemicals associated with inflammation related to stress. Also, by adopting a positive attitude people may even be able to undo some of the physical damage caused by stress. Ong, a developmental psychologist, became interested in the study of positive emotion during graduate school when he learned about what researchers call the paradox of aging: Despite the notable loss of physical function throughout the body, a person’s emotional capacity seemed to stay consistent with age. Ong speculates that if positive emotions are indeed good for our health then, “one direct, measurable consequence of this should be the extended years of quality living.”
Might your outlook on life — and that of your spouse or partner — affect your well-being? A study that involved 1,970 heterosexual couples, all older than 50 (most in their mid-60s) used standardized testing to measure their so-called dispositional optimism, defined as the general expectation that good things will happen. In a four-year period, those deemed the most optimistic had better health overall, including fewer chronic illnesses, and were able to function better physically than were the least optimistic people. Highly optimistic participants became more mobile as the study went on, whereas the least optimistic became less mobile. Chronic illnesses increased at a slower rate for the more optimistic compared with the least optimistic people. In addition, having an optimistic spouse or partner enhanced an individual’s health status, even above and beyond a person’s own level of optimism, the researchers wrote.
Research suggest that couples, especially those middle-aged and older with rosier dispositions reap health benefits, such as less stress, fewer colds, less chance of developing cardiovascular problems and perhaps even a longer life span.