In both our personal and professional lives, we all encounter situations where the perception of our life glass is either half-full or half-empty. Our response to that age-old question helps to define us as individuals, as well as inform our personal outlook on life. I have been an optimist my entire life, for better (always seeing the good in people) or for worse (even when I shouldn’t), continually looking on the bright side of life (not to quote Monty Python). But, I never thought about the health benefits of my personality traits until now.
Earlier this week, Jane Brody, Personal Health and Wellness contributor to The New York Times, wrote a blog post on optimism and its various health benefits. While reading her blog, it made me think, “How can optimism actually make me healthier?”
In her blog post, Brody talks about “Breaking Murphy’s Law,” by Suzanne C. Segerstrom, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, who explains that “optimism is not about being positive so much as it is about being motivated and persistent.” She adds that people can become more optimistic by simply acting as if they were more optimistic, providing some support for the notion of positive thinking.
An example of this persistence in the sports world is clear in a recent tweet on May 1 from Drew Brees, a spokesperson for Ogilvy Washington’s client, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN): “Just enjoyed a lunch with Billie Jean King in DC between PCFSN meetings. Quote of the Day from her: Failure is not failure, its feedback.” I am sure that this positive perception on failure helped Ms. King overcome any challenges in her amazing tennis career.
The Mayo Clinic notes that “optimism is the belief that good things will happen to you and that negative events are temporary setbacks to be overcome.” In a study the Clinic released in May 2011 entitled, “Positive thinking: Reduce stress by eliminating negative self-talk,” the overwhelming physical and mental health benefits of positive thinking are discussed, including (but not limited to):
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
While the study is unclear as to why positive thinking provides these health benefits, it does theorize that perhaps a positive outlook allows individuals to better handle stressful situations and thus reduce the harmful effects of stress.
To help develop a more positive outlook on life (for those pessimists or realists out there), the Mayo Clinic identified six ways to lead a healthier lifestyle:
- Identify areas to change
- Check yourself
- Be open to humor
- Follow a healthy lifestyle
- Surround yourself with positive people
- Practice positive self-talk
As part of my resolution for 2012 (yes, I know, I am a little late), I will try to incorporate at least three ways to lead a healthier lifestyle (listed above) into my daily life. What will you do?
*For applications on Optimism and Social Marketing, check out Lisa Charnitski’s blog post from January 2012.