Be optimistic – you might just live longer

Today is Friday the 13th and instead of being superstitious I thought I would focus on being optimistic.

I’ve been reading a great book Flourish: A Visionary Understanding of Happiness and Well Being by Martin E.P. Seligman.  The book documents the benefits of positive psychology and providing people the tools to have a positive outlook on life.  Although much of the book focuses on mental state and the effects of a positive outlook on personal and business relationships there is also research to suggest that a positive outlook will affect your physical health in a good way.  Here’s some of the research reported by Dr. Seligman.

The findings that have emerged from the positive psychology initiative have not been confined to positive interventions (see Peterson, 2006, for a review). Many of the findings are not of the “my grandmother already knew it” variety; among the more surprising ones:

 • Women who flashed a genuine smile in their yearbook photos as freshmen have more marital satisfaction twenty-five years later (Harker & Keltner, 2001).

 • Brief raising of positive mood enhances creative thinking and makes positive physicians more accurate and faster to come up with the proper liver diagnosis (Fredrickson, 2001; Isen, 2005).

 • The relation of national wealth to life satisfaction is dramatically curvilinear; after the safety net is met, increases in wealth produce less and less life satisfaction (Diener, Sandvik, Seidlitz, & Diener, 1993).

 • In business meetings a ratio of greater than 2.9:1 for positive to negative statements predicts economic flourishing (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005).

• Peripheral attention is superior under positive emotion (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005).

 Some newer findings concern optimism predicting cardiovascular disease (CVD) and mortality and these studies bear directly on the likelihood that a state of positive health will increase longevity and improve prognosis:

 • Giltay, Geleijnse, Zitman, Hoekstra, and Schouten (2004) followed 999 Dutch seniors for a decade: high optimism produced a remarkably low hazard ratio of 0.23 for CVD death (upper versus lower quartile of optimism, 95% confidence interval, 0.10–0.55) when controlling for age, sex, chronic disease, education, smoking, alcohol, history of CVD, body mass, and cholesterol level. Similarly, Buchanan (1995) found that among 96 men who had had their first heart attack, 15 of the 16 most pessimistic men died of CVD over the next decade, while only 5 of the 16 most optimistic died, controlling for major risk factors.

 • Kubzansky, Sparrow, Vokonas, and Kawachi (2001) followed 1,306 men who were evaluated by the MMPI Optimism–Pessimism scale. In a 10-year follow-up, incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), non-fatal myocardial infarction, fatal CHD and angina pectoris were recorded. A robust positive correlation was found between increasingly high levels of optimism and increased protection against each of the cardiovascular events and depression significantly increase the risk for cardiac events. Similarly Kubzansky and Thurston (2007) found a strong positive relationship between emotional vitality and lack of CVD.

 • Optimism and positive emotions have also been linked to recovery after a major cardiac event. Leedham, Meyerowitz, Muirhead, and Frist (1995) interviewed 31 heart-transplant patients both before and after surgery. Those who reported a high level of positive expectation and good mood before the surgery were found to have greater adherence to medical regimen after surgery, as well as a better status report obtained by nursing 6 months post-operation.

 • Scheier, Matthews, Owens, Magovern, Lefebvre, Abbott, and Carver (1989) investigated the effect of dispositional optimism in 51 middle-aged men who had coronary artery bypass surgery. Dispositional optimism was associated with faster recovery rates during hospitalisation, as well as a speedier return to normal living upon discharge. At the 6-month follow-up, there was a strong positive association between high optimism and good quality of life.

 • Optimism and positive affect may also be protective against other physical deteriorations. Ostir, Ottenbacher, and Markides (2004) followed 1,558 initially non-frail older Mexican-Americans for 7 years. Frailty increased by 7.9% over the course of follow-up, but those men with high positive affect were found to have a significantly lower risk of frailty onset.

• Positive emotional style (PES) may also act as preventive against the onset of the common cold. Cohen, Alper, Doyle, Treanor, and Turner (2006) administered nasal drops carrying either rhinovirus or influenza to 193 healthy normal volunteers, ranging in age from 21 to 55. They found that a high level of PES was associated with a lower risk of developing either of the two conditions, manifest as upper respiratory conditions.

About Craig Thompson

I am a young professional with two great sons, and I work in the healthcare setting. I am employed in hospital administration and serve as Chief Executive Officer at Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare in Clinton, Missouri. At GVMH we care for our families, friends and neighbors. We're committed to providing the safest, friendliest and most compassionate care to all we serve.
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