It’s not considered ultra-cool to be an optimist in today’s culture. Too much pep comes off as naïveté and we’re just one motivational poster away from self-implosion. But do you know what is cool? Living for a long time, with mobility, good circulation, and all your cognitive faculties. Numerous scientific, long-term studies have shown that this goes hand in hand with an optimistic outlook on life. The core difference for why optimists consistently outlive pessimists has to do with how each type copes with adversity. The former engages with their stress and takes action, while the later is less likely to seek positive change, and more likely to disengage with or deny problems. It’s not just psychological either, your outlook on life is evident on a cellular level. In this talk for Hope & Optimism, Professor Michael Scheier describes some of these health-damaging and health-promoting behaviors, and provides a (frankly terrifying) list of ways pessimism can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. Optimism is something you can learn, and knowing it can keep you in good health for longer is all the motivation you need to break negative thinking patterns. This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored.
Read more at BigThink.com: http://bigthink.com/videos/michael-scheier-why-optimists-live-longer-than-pessimists
Transcript: So the idea was that this coping—and the differences between optimists and pessimists is how they cope with this stress—actually helped us explain why they were less distressed across time.
A number of studies have looked at coping differences in optimists and pessimists and there really are a number of strategies that they use, they’re really very different. Optimists tend to seek out information about what’s happening. They actively cope and plan for trying to make their plight better. They try to reframe in positive ways. They seek benefits from what’s happened to them. They use humor and they accept. And, in general, these things are more engagement coping strategies. They’re actively dealing with the stress that’s confronting them, trying to reframe it, trying to move on with their lives.
Pessimists on the other hand suppress their thoughts about what’s happening to them. They give up. They use self-distraction. They avoid thinking about the problem and they use over-denial. “This is not really happening to me.” They just don’t believe that it’s reality. Collectively you might think of these as being disengagement coping techniques, and these differences have been found repeatedly in different studies over time. There’s really dozens and dozens and dozens of studies showing these differences between coping.
So optimists do cope differently than pessimists, and the difference seems to be in optimists using engagement coping techniques, being life-focused, versus tendencies toward disengagement, pulling back, and not accepting the reality of the situation.
Okay, that was psychological wellbeing. What about physical wellbeing? Physical health. Does optimism make a difference there? Are optimists healthier than pessimists?
Again there’s been a variety of research done addressing this issue. People have looked at re-hospitalization, at the different kinds of surgery, they looked at health of newborns in terms of gestation period, birth weights. There’s been a lot of studies looking at disease incidence, which means you get a healthy group of people at time one, and you study them across time, and you see who shows new cases of that disease, whatever it might be, down the road.
And they looked at heart failure, people looked at incidence of stroke and other kinds of physical disabilities. There are also studies looking at survival and mortality, trying to demonstrate that if you get healthy people at the beginning of a study, track them across 8, 9, 10, 11 years and look and see who dies. Does optimism predict who lives and who dies down the road?
Well it turns out that there are in fact very clear links, I think, between optimism and physical health. People who are optimistic are healthier and they just achieve better outcomes. So that does seem to be this link again, between optimism and physical wellbeing, even involving things like mortality and survival across time.