Optimism Month: How And Why To Celebrate

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By Elizabeth Scott, MS

Although March is Optimism Month, any month can be an opportunity to build your tendency toward grounded optimism, and reap the many benefits that come from this. Optimism is associated with many benefits in life, including increased health, happiness, and longevity. And although a tendency toward optimism is partially due to inborn factors like openness to experience and agreeableness, optimistic thinking patterns can be developed any time during your life, and can bring these benefits with them.

Focusing on developing these thinking habits may take a little time, so focusing on them over the course of a month can help you to make this a lifelong habit. Let’s look a little closer on why it’s worth taking the time and effort to do this.

How Optimism Benefits You

People often wonder if those who are optimistic are only more likely to expect the best because they haven’t been disappointed by setbacks in life enough yet. Or perhaps they are happier because they already have more to be happy about. However, research finds that those who are optimistic tend to have more to be happy about because of benefits that they gain from their optimism, and not that they are merely more optimistic because they have had easier lives.

This is great news because it opens up the benefits of optimism to anyone who wants to change their perspective. These benefits include greater success, physical and emotional health, and longevity, less stress, and more.

Optimism May Boost Immune System

An optimistic outlook might strengthen your body’s ability to fight off infection, new research suggests.

The finding doesn’t prove that looking on the sunny side leads to better health, but it does add to evidence of a link between attitude and disease by suggesting that “a single person — with the same personality and genes — has different immune function when he or she feels more or less optimistic,” said study author Suzanne C. Segerstrom, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Kentucky.

From 2001 to 2005, Segerstrom and a colleague gave surveys to 124 first-year law students. The students, the majority of whom were white (90 percent) and female (55 percent), answered questions about topics such as their levels of optimism about their success in school.

The participants also were given an injection of an antigen that makes the immune system react by creating a bump on the skin. A bigger bump means that the immune system reaction is stronger.

The researchers, who reported their findings in the March issue of  Psychological Science, found that the immune response became more powerful in individual students as they became more optimistic over time, and lessened as they became more pessimistic.

But there’s more to it. “When people felt more optimistic, they also felt more happy, attentive and joyous, and that accounted for some of the relationship between optimism and immunity,” Segerstrom said.

In the big picture, the findings suggest that the effect of optimism on immunity may be limited, “as it leaves room for lots of other factors that contribute to fluctuations in immunity over time,” she said.

James E. Maddux, a professor of psychology at George Mason University, said the findings are “another example of the power of optimism, of what used to be called positive thinking back in the 1950s and 1960s.”

He added, “It’s hard to make any firm conclusion from a single study, but it’s one more piece of evidence that what we think actually matters, in some very important ways.”

So what’s going on in the body? If there is a link between attitude, emotions and health, how does it work? Dr. Hilary Tindle, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Health Care, has several theories.

One is that “happier or more positive, hopeful people tend to live healthier,” she said. And hopeful people may react in healthier ways to stress, helping them to recover more quickly.

Also, “more positive individuals are also more likely to adhere to medical therapy and advice, and therefore may be healthier on that basis,” Tindle added.

In a study of women published last August, Tindle found that optimism appears to have an effect on the heart and longevity. “Optimistic women had more stable risk profiles, with less high blood pressure and diabetes. They didn’t smoke as much and tended to exercise more. So their lower risk might just be associated with living healthier,” she said.

Or, she noted, a woman’s outlook on life might affect how she responds to stress. Pessimism and cynical hostility might lead to higher blood pressure, higher heart rate and other physical risk factors, Tindle reported.

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter (HealthDay News)

SOURCES: Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Ph.D., professor, department of psychology, University of Kentucky, Lexington; Hilary Tindle, M.D., M.P.H., researcher, Center for Research on Health Care, division of general internal medicine, University of Pittsburgh; James E. Maddux, Ph.D., professor, department of psychology, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.; March 2010 Psychological Science

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Optimism May Propel Women to a Longer Life

Women who generally believe that good things will happen may live longer.

That’s the suggestion of a new study that seems to affirm the power of positive thinking.

“This study shows that optimism is associated with reduced risk of death from stroke, respiratory disease, infection and cancer,” said Eric Kim, co-lead author of the investigation.

“Optimistic people tend to act in healthier ways. Studies show that optimistic people exercise more, eat healthier diets and have higher quality sleep,” said Kim, a research fellow in the department of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Kim added that an upbeat outlook also may directly affect biological function. Research has demonstrated that higher optimism is linked with lower inflammation, healthier lipid levels (fats in the blood), and higher antioxidants (substances that protect cells from damage), Kim said.

“Optimistic people also use healthier coping styles,” he said. “A summary of over 50 studies showed that when confronted with life challenges, optimists use healthier coping methods like acceptance of circumstances that cannot be changed, planning for further challenges, creating contingency plans, and seeking support from others when needed.”

For this investigation, scientists reviewed records on 70,000 women who participated in a long-running health study that surveyed them every two years between 2004 and 2012. The study authors examined optimism levels and other factors that might affect the results, such as race, high blood pressure, diet and physical activity.

Overall, the risk of dying from any disease analyzed in this study was almost 30 percent less among the most optimistic women compared to the least optimistic women.

For the most optimistic women, for instance, the risk of dying from cancer was 16 percent lower; the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke or respiratory disease was almost 40 percent lower; and the risk of dying from infection was 52 percent lower, the study found.

Levels of optimism were determined from responses to statements such as “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best,” according to Kim.

While the study uncovered an association between optimism and life span, it did not prove cause and effect.

Dr. Sarah Samaan, a cardiologist at the Heart Hospital at Baylor in Plano, Texas, said healthy behaviors may help fuel optimism.

“It’s easier to feel optimistic when you feel healthy and energetic,” said Samaan, who was not involved in the research. “By choosing a healthy lifestyle, you may open yourself up to greater gratitude and create more energy for deeper relationships and professional satisfaction.”

She added that for people with depression and anxiety, medication may help to improve mental outlook and thus overall health, although this study did not address that specific issue.

The study authors noted that individual actions can promote optimism. The simple act of writing down best possible outcomes for careers, friendships and other areas of life could generate optimism and healthier futures, they suggested.

Kim described a two-week exercise where people were asked to write acts of kindness they performed that day. Another activity involved writing down things they were grateful for every day. Both these exercises were shown to increase optimism, he said.

The study was published online Dec. 7 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

More information offers healthy living tips for older women.

By Don Rauf
HealthDay Reporter

SOURCES: Eric Kim, Ph.D., research fellow, department of social and behavioral sciences, department of epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Sarah Samaan, M.D., cardiologist and physician partner, Heart Hospital at Baylor in Plano, Texas; Dec. 7, 2016, American Journal of Epidemiology

Copyright © 2016 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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Why Celebrate Optimism Month?

While you can focus on optimism any time from moment to moment and improve your outer and inner experience, focusing on optimism for a full month can really help you to make it more of an established part of your life. This is true for several reasons:

  • Optimism is about more than looking on the bright side. Becoming more of an optimist may involve examining your current thinking patterns, deciding on new perspectives to adopt, developing new habits, and other actions. This can take time.
  • Habits take time to develop , whether we’re talking about habits of thought or about lifestyle habits. Both types of habits can help you to be more of an optimist, so it helps to give yourself a few weeks to cement these new aspects of your life.
  • Some changes may work better for you than others. If you spend a month focusing on making optimism-supporting changes in your life, this gives you time to try and discard a few things before you settle on the changes that will work best for you. (This is true whether you’re focusing on optimism, happiness, stress relief, or anything else that requires change.)
How To Celebrate Optimism Month?

There are several ways to “celebrate” Optimism Month and make it work for you to the fullest.  Remember, March is the official Optimism Month, and you can use the momentum of a group by joining with others in celebrating optimism if you observe it in March.However, you are welcome to make any month the month that you focus on optimism (or begin focusing on optimism more), and you can even recruit friends to join you, so don’t let the date limit you.  As for what, specifically, you can do to celebrate, here are some ideas, each of which can be transformative:

  • Learn about what optimism is—and isn’t.  This will make it easier for you to know what direction you should be moving toward.
  • Examine your habitual thought patterns, and see what you can change.
  • Develop optimism-enhancing habits: maintain a gratitude journal, a coincidence journal, or a vision board.
  • Look back and re-examine your past with more optimistic eyes.
  • Practice other everyday optimism habits.

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