On Glasses Half Empty and Half Full. Part V: An Optimistic Attitude Bodes Well

glasshalffullcloudy mountains


Another positive health finding for learned optimism: According to a study published in the August 10 issue of Circulation, women who have a more optimistic view of life, who are more cheerful and trusting, are less likely to develop heart trouble than those who take a pessimistic view of life.

The report of The Women’s Health Initiative, which has tracked more than 97,000 postmenopausal American women between the ages of 50 and 79 for more than eight years examined psychosocial and social factors and their effect on the health of postmenopausal women, among other factors. Optimism was measured by a questionnaire on whether a woman agreed with such statements as “In unclear times, I usually expect the best.” The questions measuring cynicism asked about agreement with such statements as “It is safer to trust no one” and “I have often had to take orders from people who did not know as much as I did.”

Women within the highest 25 percent of optimism scores had a 9 percent lower chance of developing heart disease and a 14 percent lower chance of dying of any cause. Women with the highest degree of cynical hostility were 16 percent more likely to die than those with the most trust in their fellow humans.

There are several possible explanations for the new finding, according to lead author and University of Pittsburgh researcher, Dr. Hilary Tindle. Money might well be involved, since “optimism is associated with higher income and education,” she said. But curiously, “the level of socioeconomic status when a woman was young was better associated with outcome than current status,” Tindle said. 45191

Three broad categories off possibilities beyond that are posited by Dr. Tindle:

Lifestyle factors. “Optimistic women had more stable risk profiles, with less high blood pressure and diabetes. They didn’t smoke as much and tended to exercise more. So their lower risk might just be associated with living healthier.”

Optimists may be more likely to follow their doctors advice more faithfully. “Previous studies have shown that optimists tend to follow the diet they are told to follow.”

A woman’s outlook on life might affect how she responds to stress. Pessimism and cynical hostility might lead to higher blood pressure, higher heart rate and other physical risk factors.

Is it possible to change one’s outlook? To become a more optimistic, less cynical and hostile person? To go beyond ‘anger management’ (so in vogue these days) to a more essential change of world view? Because this study certainly suggests that would be one terrific idea. Now!

Absolutely. Two requirements:

The lightbulb has to want to change: you need motivation and the desire and ability to stick with it.
You need to follow a consistent practice: committing to a good program, therapist, teacher who can teach you techniques designed to be effective for you.

Change of this nature takes practice and time.

But there’s increasing incentive. As Dr. Tindle notes, “One’s view of the world and your perspective can play an important role in your health. This study demonstrates the role and significance of the connection between the mind and the body. Its just another reason to try to look at the bright side of life.”

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.


2 responses to “On Glasses Half Empty and Half Full. Part V: An Optimistic Attitude Bodes Well

  1. Based on my research with layoff survivors, I have found that the most optimistic men and women are those who define themselves by their work – not where they do that work. Their self-esteem is not contingent on one job or one organization. In other words they are not organizationally co-dependent. They are more naturally optimistic because they are in charge of their own emotions. Unlike many, they have not put all their social and emotional eggs in the organizational basket. The reality that that basket will get dropped leads to anxiety and errodes optimism.

  2. Please please make a post on nostalgia!

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