Optimism Affects Your Health
Time magazine’s recent cover story on health pictured a wide-eyed infant next to the headline: “This baby could live to be 142 years old.” The feature touched off such discussions as one raising the question: is it a good idea to live that long?
Most of the cover package stories detailed research into aging and steps people could take to improve their health—and thus longevity. The one that caught my eye concerned cutting-edge research on mental outlook, and how it affects the aging process.
The Cost of Pessimism
This story mentioned research by a doctor at Vanderbilt University. She studied cynicism and its accompanying tendency to look at others as not trustworthy or even harmful. Interestingly, women with lower cynicism had a lower risk of death.
Another study compared more than 430 people who had undergone heart bypass surgery; 284 were diagnosed with at least low-level clinical depression and 146 weren’t depressed.
The subjects all took the same optimism survey that a sample group in the other study had. Within eight months after surgery, the depressed pessimists experienced more than twice the complications and re-hospitalization rate as the optimists.
Spiritual Heart Secrets
These findings echoed those of a doctor I worked with three years ago on the book, Spiritual Secrets to a Healthy Heart: Uncovering the Roots of America’s Number One Killer.
Dr. Kara Davis wrote extensively about the topic of optimism and the significant difference it makes on heart patients’ longevity. As the survivor of double-bypass surgery, I paid close attention as I edited.
Compared to optimistic people, pessimists were more likely to be re-hospitalized for everything from wound infections to heart attacks to another bypass operation. She said this connection applies to other aspects of the cardiovascular system; optimists have fewer strokes and a slower progression of carotid artery disease.
Dr. Davis says while the connection between optimism and heart health is clear, that raises the question: what can you do about it?
“Anyone who has lived with a negative person (or if you are that person) will attest to the difficulty of changing someone’s disposition,” she says. “As we grow older, a ‘bah-humbug’ nature can become so ingrained that change seems virtually impossible.
“Nevertheless, we have a tool at our disposal that has the capacity to transform our nature and instill hope in even a life-long Scrooge. That tool is gratitude. For the sake of our hearts, we must learn to be thankful.”
Adopting a Better Outlook
My personal downturn started in November of 2007, just as the first cracks of the mortgage debacle appeared in the economy. That was about two months before my diagnosis with the blockage that spelled bypass surgery.
For the next four years-plus, my income either went down or sideways. If you don’t think that is stressful, it’s only because you haven’t lived through it.
However, looking back, I can see the providential timing of working on this book. In a new way, I saw my need to adopt a more optimistic outlook if I expected to live much longer. Within a few months, business turned around, so dramatically it took my breath away.
I wish I could say conditions have remained rosy since then, but roller coasters seem a part of my life. However, now I’m better equipped to enjoy the ride.