Is optimism good for your heart?
Little Orphan Annie is known for singing the hopeful phrase “the sun will come out tomorrow,” inspiring audiences to find the silver lining in every dull, dreary day. Recent research shows that the cute little redhead might have been on to something.
Multiple studies have found health benefits tied to optimism besides a cheery mood. A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that female optimists had a lower rate of death and were less likely to die from coronary heart disease than pessimists. Researchers from University of Michigan and Harvard University found optimism in older people—aged 50 or above—significantly reduced the risk of heart failure. The researchers compared optimists to pessimists and discovered optimistic people had a 73 percent reduced risk for heart failure over the four year follow-up period.
But these benefits aren’t exclusive to inherently optimistic people. Dr. Brent Sylvester, an Advocate Medical Group clinical psychologist at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., says, “Nurturing a positive outlook can be accomplished in many ways that essentially boil down to working at recognizing positive experiences.” Identifying these positive experiences and even savoring them can be helpful for developing optimism, he says. Other strategies include reflecting or journaling about circumstances you are grateful for and engaging in acts of kindness.
Emphasizing the positives in daily life is the key to optimism and its health benefits, Dr. Sylvester says. “People tend to overvalue negative information. We pay more attention to negative events or experiences, because that helps us notice, anticipate and solve problems that may be important,” he explains. “But developing an optimistic outlook can help us be more mindful of the full range of experiences, positive and negative.”
Shifting focus to all that went right instead of wrong during the day will not only lead to health benefits, but also can give some perspective. The sun will come out tomorrow.
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