You’ve likely come across them many times in your life (though you might have noticed fewer of them in the last year). They’re usually smiling and putting a “positive spin” on any given situation. We’re talking about the “look on the bright side,” “glass half-full” types among us: Optimists.
Perhaps you envy their rosy outlook on life. Or you question how they can keep their spirits high through success and adversity alike. Maybe you’re one of them. If you’re not, you might want to be. It turns out, optimism has notable positive implications for your health.
Since March is National Optimism Month, we decided to explore how optimism affects health and offer some insight into how to reap those benefits yourself. So pour a half-full glass of water, coffee, tea – whatever beverage makes you happy – and keep reading.
HOW CAN YOU MEASURE OPTIMISM?
It’s fair to ask how you can tell if someone is truly optimistic or just in a good mood today. Scientists follow two systems when measuring optimism: dispositional optimism and explanatory style.
Dispositional optimism measures a person’s expectations for their future, generalized across several areas of their lives. This essentially comes down to expecting things to turn out positively at some point in the future.
Explanatory style has more to do with how a person explains good or bad news. Whereas a pessimist sees bad news as something they are responsible for, will last indefinitely, and will impact various areas of their life, an optimist doesn’t assign themself blame. Rather, an optimist credits themself for good news and assumes good things will last and positively impact other areas of their life.
A simpler way to think about optimism is as an overall mental attitude of hope and confidence in a positive future. Generally speaking, an optimist is a person who expects good things will happen, vs. a pessimist, who typically expects the worst (or close to it). Optimists have bad days too – who doesn’t? – but they may see negative events as learning opportunities. At the very least, they understand that a setback does not have to be permanent.
PHYSICAL BENEFITS OF BEING OPTIMISTIC
The obvious discussion might be how optimism affects happiness, but it turns out that having an optimistic outlook on life impacts more than your mood. Researchers have studied the physical benefits of optimism extensively and have found overwhelming evidence that it does, in fact, lead to positive health outcomes.
- Live longer
- Enjoy better cardiovascular health
- Have stronger immune systems
- Report lower stress and pain levels
- Smoke less
- Be more likely to drink alcohol only in moderation
- Get more and better sleep (and we already know how important that is!)
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
Those are some major benefits for “looking at the bright side”!
WHY OPTIMISM IMPROVES YOUR HEALTH
While there is an abundance of data behind how optimism positively impacts health, much less is known about why. Researchers who have attempted to find the reason for the connection between optimism and better health have determined four key factors are at play.
- Optimists appear to have a better understanding of what actions they need to take to be healthy.
- Optimists behave healthier.
- Optimists cope with stress, trauma, or other setbacks more effectively.
- Optimists have – or at least perceive – a stronger, more supportive social network they can rely on when in a crisis.
Mind over matter seems to work when it comes to using your positive perspective to act on healthier habits.
HOW TO BE MORE OPTIMISTIC
Even with the overwhelming evidence that being more optimistic can help improve your health, feeling more optimistic may be easier said than done – especially given current extenuating circumstances. However, we hope you agree that it’s worth a try, and what better time than during National Optimism Month?
Here are a few of our favorite ideas for seeing the glass as half-full throughout March – and beyond:
- Practice gratitude. Set aside time each day to reflect on what you’re grateful for, and write it down! Research shows that people who practice gratitude tend to have a more positive outlook on life. Even a small positive event is worth noting!
- Move! It’s well-known that exercise increases feel-good endorphins, but research has shown time and again that exercise has multiple health benefits that can impact your overall mood. Further, exercise increases serotonin production and suppresses stress hormones, directly affecting your ability to practice optimism. You don’t have to commit to a full fitness routine to benefit, either. Just 10 minutes can give you the boost you need. That’s manageable even if you’re working through mobility challenges (which Strive products can help with).
- Cultivate positive thinking. Actively work toward a more positive outlook by sharing positive thoughts. Challenge yourself to say one positive thing to someone else each day. You can give a compliment or simply verbalize something that makes you happy.
- Use visualization to see the future in a positive light. We often hear about athletes using visualization exercises to prepare for a game or match. They close their eyes and envision themselves succeeding in their sport, and then they reflect on how to achieve that success given steps they’ve already taken to prepare. You can use the same kind of thinking to have a more positive outlook on non-athletic aspects of your life. Take a moment to close your eyes and envision the best-case scenario for your life in the next few months, year, or few years. You’ve already overcome any obstacles currently in your way and are happy and calm. Allow yourself to feel that happiness, and reflect on what you can do to get to that endpoint.
- Look forward to doing the things you love again. Maybe you’re having a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that is the current worldview, but we will be able to enjoy the activities we love again! Allow yourself to think about the concerts you’d like to go to someday (protecting your ears with Flents music-noise reducing ear plugs), or plan out the trips you’d like to take. (If the idea of travel excites you, but you worry about ear pressure in the airplane or motion sickness, Flents has you covered so you can fully enjoy your experience.)
It’s been a rough year, but we hope you agree that things are looking up! And we’re here to help you find the bright side wherever we can.
VeryWell Mind: Celebrate Optimism Month in March
Harvard Health Publishing: Optimism and your health
VeryWell Mind: What is Optimism?
Psychology Today: 4 Reasons Why an Optimistic Outlook Is Good for Your Health
VeryWell Mind: Cultivate Gratitude and Feel Happier With Life
VeryWell Mind: How Positive Thinking Impacts Your Stress Level
Guideposts: How Positive Thinking Can Improve Your Physical Health
Insider: 7 ways exercise makes you happy — and how much you need to improve your mood
Psychology Today: Two Quick Ways to Feel More Optimistic