A Healthy Dose of Optimism
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Take a close look at that glass of water. Is it half empty or half full? What you see could make a difference in your life—and maybe even your health. A pessimist is someone who tends to see the negative side of things. To them, the glass looks half empty. An optimist tends to see the positive side of things. To them, the glass looks half full.
The Power of Optimism
Being optimistic is thought to help people be healthier and live longer. This may be because optimists tend to:
The Bright Side
Psychologists know the link between positive thinking and physical and mental health. It helps to change negative thought patterns into positive ones. However, do not worry if you are not optimistic!
In general, people who focus on the positive tend to reach more goals. They often get better grades, win more athletic contests, and earn more money.
This may be due to the power of expectation. Positive thinking makes you expect good results. Therefore, you are more likely to act and not give up. Negative thinking makes you feel like giving up, so you may not act.
Optimist vs. Non-optimist
Are you an optimist or a non-optimist? It may have to do with how you explain events in your life.
Optimists tend to see setbacks as specific, short-term and changeable. This moves them to take action. Non-optimists tend to look at setbacks as general, lasting, and hopeless.
For example, an optimist skipped her exercise routine for a whole week. She said "I had a lot going on this week. I did not plan my time too well. I will have to do better next week." A pessimist in the same situation might say, "I have no self-discipline. Obviously, I cannot meet my goals. Exercise just is not for me."
A Good Mood
Mood can also affect whether you have more positive or negative thoughts. This is because mood can change how you interpret events. Most people are a blend of optimism and pessimism. It depends on the situation.
Optimistic people tend to lift their moods using:
Optimism: Not Always the Answer
Not everyone agrees that being optimistic is the key to good health. There is more to it than just that. For example, someone who is too optimistic may take many risks. This tends to happen with teenagers. They may focus on fun, but not consider the dangers.
It can be damaging to think optimistically with certain health choices too. For example, some people do not worry about smoking, not using condoms, or not wearing seatbelts. They do not think they will be harmed.
A better method may be to:
Negative to Positive Thinking
Optimism can be learned. One technique is to write about setbacks. Then practice arguing with your less optimistic thoughts. Do this until you have a more realistic view of what has happened—or what is likely to happen in the future.
It takes focus to change negative thoughts into positive ones. But, with practice, we can all bring more healthy optimism to our lives.
American Counseling Association
University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center
Canadian Psychological Association
Boehm Julia K, Chen Ying, et al. Is optimism associated with healthier cardiovascular-related behavior? Circulation Research. 2018;122:1119–1134.
Can optimism make a difference in your life? University of Rochester Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4511. Accessed July 1, 2021.
Optimism for teens. Teen's Health—Nemours website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/optimism.html. Accessed July 1, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
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