What Exactly Is The Relationship Between Optimism And Health?

What exactly is the relationship between optimism and health?

Optimistic people often deal with their problems in a more effective way. They firmly believe that despite the setbacks, they can do whatever they want. In addition, they give up less often. Their approach is usually more proactive. People who are optimistic focus on what they can gain rather than what they can lose. Does possessing this perspective in life have anything to do with the relationship between optimism and health?

Numerous studies have been conducted on this subject. These are some examples. Self-report, health estimation by health care professionals, number of doctor visits or measurement of survival after a heart attack.

Optimism has proven itself as a predictor of good health. Based on the results of these studies, we can conclude that the correlation between optimism and health can be between 0.20 and 0.30. In this article, we take a closer look at the relationship between optimism and health.

Types of Optimism

When we hear the word “optimism” we usually think of expecting positive and beneficial outcomes. This also has a lot to do with psychological and physical well-being. However, there are two different types of optimism:

  • Personal: This is the optimism we usually refer to. It is the positive, continuous and general expectations that good results will be achieved. This kind of optimism is considered to be fairly stable.
  • Situational: These are concrete expectations. The person then expects to achieve good results in a specific context, circumstance, stressful events, etc.
Types of Optimism

Studies have mostly focused on personal optimism. They try to figure out how to get people in general to acquire optimism. Sheier and Carver designed the Life Orientation Test (LOT). This test measures general expectations. It means that they measure the person-related optimism when someone expects positive results.

Factors that affect our well-being

Optimism, well-being and positivism are all directly linked. However, several factors determine whether they are present to a large or small extent:

  • Personality: According to Myers (2000), a large part of our subjective well-being is determined by our personality. In more detail, this means that genetic factors can explain 50% of the difference in happiness. This is also the reason that it is always fairly stable.
  • Wealth: Money and happiness are not equal. On a personal level, there is no connection between being rich and being happy. In fact, people who constantly want more money tend to be happier than those who don’t.
  • Interpersonal Relationships: To have a close relationship with other people is a basic and essential human need. Most people feel happier when they have meaningful relationships than when they don’t.
  • Achieving Goals: Achieving goals definitely increases people’s well-being.

Positive emotions, optimism and physical health

Optimistic people often use strategies with the aim of solving problems immediately. They do this especially when they feel they have the situation under control. At that point, they think they are capable of changing the situation. So they act and then evaluate. However, pessimists evaluate first. If the expectations convince them, then they act. (Sanna L., 1996).

Positive emotions are linked to the rise in immunoglobulin A. This antibody is considered to be the first defense mechanism against disease. These emotions have not only immediate effects, but also subjective ones. The following effects are observed in people who feel happy:

  • They show fewer physical symptoms than people who feel sad. Sad people often feel more discomfort.
  • They consider themselves less vulnerable than sad people. This means that it is also easier for them to maintain their health.
  • Happy people see themselves as more capable of engaging in health-improving behaviors. They are also more confident that they will alleviate their illness.
Factors that affect your well-being

Mechanisms explaining the relationship between optimism and health

There are three mechanisms that may explain the link between optimism and health:

  • The physiological mechanism: In optimists, the heart and blood vessels are less responsive to stress. They also possess a higher immunological physical state. This means that they have a greater number of biological defense mechanisms. This equates to fewer health problems.
  • The Emotional Mechanism: The relationship between optimism and health is not direct. It occurs through emotional states. In addition, negativity is associated with poorer functioning of the cardiovascular and immune systems.
  • The Behavioral Mechanism: Optimists exhibit more health-promoting behaviors than pessimists. Their healthy behavior ensures that they have better health. These people exercise, drink in moderation, eat a balanced diet and avoid misbehavior.

Decisive self-report

Many studies have concluded that optimistic people recover from illness in a more satisfying way than pessimistic people. Here’s some evidence that supports this idea:

  • Pregnancy and Birth: Optimistic women experience fewer depressive symptoms during pregnancy and after birth. They also feel less anxious. After a miscarriage, this helps them a lot psychologically.
  • Surgical procedures: In a longitudinal study (individual measurements repeated at a number of consecutive time points) in patients who had undergone this procedure, the results were consistent. Before their intervention, optimists showed lower levels of negative emotions, hostility and depression.
  • Cancer: Here they examined the attitudes of women during the process of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Women who behaved positively during this process showed less discomfort before and during the interventions.
  • Victims of HIV: Some studies show that people with HIV who are optimistic show fewer negative emotions and worries related to the development of the diseases.
The effect of a positive attitude

We have discussed optimism and its effects in this article. Now it’s up to you to decide if you want to keep a positive attitude and try to achieve your goals. However, one thing is certain: a positive frame of mind improves our health, mood and general well-being. 

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