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Optimism and Health

Cup half empty? Or cup half full? How would you describe yourself? Do you see events through a prism of optimism or through a prism of pessimism? There is a growing body of research which examines the effect that your attitude has on your health, your sense of well-being, and even on your longevity. Some studies have revealed that individuals with an optimistic perspective on life generally have a more positive sense of their own well being, are less likely to experience anxiety, are less prone to depression, and live longer and healthier lives.1

Since 1994, researchers have examined the results from the Women's Health Initiative.1 Approximately 100,000 women age fifty and over were studied in terms of their outlooks on life, their physical health, and their emotional well-being. The eight years of follow-up findings indicated that those who had optimistic outlooks lived longer and healthier lives than the pessimistic participants. Also, optimists were thirty percent less likely to die of heart disease and fourteen percent less likely to die of any cause as compared with the pessimists. In a Mayo Clinic Study following more than 800 people, those whose outlooks were pessimistic had a nineteen percent increase in risk of death, as compared to their optimistic counterparts.1

If good health, supportive relationships, and longevity are priorities of yours, these findings warrant serious consideration. Optimists tend to be calmer, more tranquil and generally happier people. They report fewer health problems, fewer interpersonal difficulties at work and at home, and they evidence more energy and comfort in social settings.

If you view events through a prism of pessimism, you may wonder "How did I become this way?" This general attitude of yours did not just occur. It developed through a combination of nature, the genes you inherited, and nurture - all that comprises your upbringing and life experiences. While the contributing factors are numerous and intimately interrelated, they do not create an orientation that is etched in stone.

Psychotherapy can help people who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, as they impact on daily functioning, relationships and parenting. Through psychotherapy you can learn to identify your strengths, to overcome your challenges and limitations, and to introduce permanent change in your life. A shift in your perspective, while initially experienced as cerebral, contrived and foreign, can be a powerful tool in reorienting how you feel, think and behave. It can provide you with an opportunity to live with greater ease, to interact with others more comfortably, and to achieve greater fulfillment, as a result of the permanent change brought into your life.


1. Mayo Clinic Health Letter, Volume 27, Number 7, July 2009;

Author: Maryann Schaefer, PhD

Dr. Schaefer is a Fellow of the American Psychotherapy Association and devotes her practice to helping others identify their strengths, while resolving issues that interfere with permanent change, productive living, and bonded loving. Submitted by Dr. Schaefer on July 26, 2009

Reviewed by athealth on February 6, 2014.