The 5 Health Benefits Of Being An Optimist
Cynics, take note: Recent studies suggest that there really is power in positive thinking. Optimists—people who expect the future to be bright—tend to be healthier and live longer, too. Negative by nature? Some simple strategies may help you see the light, says Rosalba Hernandez, Ph.D., a professor of social work at the University of Illinois. Practicing gratitude can make you more upbeat by reminding you of what you have going for you, she says. Start by acknowledging three good things that happen each day, and thank someone who did something meaningful for you. Another happiness hack: Give back. "In one study, researchers gave people $5 and instructed them to spend it either on themselves or someone else," Hernandez says. "Those who spent it on someone else became happier. Having a higher purpose and goal makes you feel good."Practice being positive, and you'll have these five perks to look forward to. 1. Your ticker will be in tip-top shape. Optimists are twice as likely to have ideal heart health, according to a new University of Illinois study. Researchers found that those with the rosiest outlooks on life had better blood sugar, cholesterol, and body mass indexes than pessimists, and were also more active and less likely to smoke—all factors that contribute to the overall status of your heart, says Hernandez, the study author. The scientists suspect that happy-go-lucky people may handle stress better, which could help them dodge the damaging effects of anxiety on the heart. See 30 More Ways to Save Your Heart. 2. You won't come down with the office cold. Look on the bright side: A recent study from the University of Kentucky suggests that a sunny disposition may make you less likely to get sick. Researchers tested people’s outlooks and immune systems over the course of a year and found that when they felt more optimistic, they had better immunity. No word yet on how the two are linked, but the researchers think that optimists' chipper moods may somehow support their immune function. 3. You'll keep your brain sharp. Being cynical may really drive you out of your mind. In a recent Finnish study, researchers tracked people for 8 years. The scientists found that cynics—people who generally see the worst in others—were more likely to develop dementia than their more trusting peers, after controlling for other factors that could cause your mind to deteriorate. The scientists don't know exactly how pessimism is linked to dementia, but say that depression among cynics may play a role. Evidence is mounting that your attitude affects your health, the researchers warn. 4. Your meds will work better. Science backs up the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy: Opioid painkillers worked twice as well when people believed they would, a recent University of Oxford study found. On the flip side, when the same people thought the drug would never work, it didn't—even though it was the exact same medicine. The findings suggest that your expectations can actually set off reactions in your brain that affect how you perceive pain, the researchers say. Other studies have found similar effects for other drugs. 5. You can laugh in the Grim Reaper's face. Here's something to smile about: You'll likely outlive your sour-pussed peers. Several studies have found a link between optimism and longevity. In one study, researchers followed a group of college students for 40 years and found that perkier people were less likely to die. Other research has established that optimistic cancer and heart disease patients survive longer. Researchers suspect that people who expect the best outcomes cope better with stress, which makes for better overall health.