Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

By:  Sasha Klemawesch, MD

Scientists have known for a while that optimists tend to enjoy better health, and recently, a BU study came out reemphasizing just that.  Their research followed a large and varied group of people for more than a decade, and found that those with the sunniest dispositions lived 11 to 15% longer than their negative counterparts! And the results held even when they accounted for chronic diseases, socioeconomic status, smoking, et al; a Positive Mental Health Attitude was shown to be beneficial and protective.

Multiple previous studies have examined smaller and more select groups but came up with similar results.  Here are some key findings from a few of those past papers:

  • Middle age patients who underwent coronary artery bypass surgery were twice as likely to end up readmitted after discharge, and more than three times as likely to suffer repeat heart attacks if they identified as pessimists.
  • Another study showed that optimism can help stave off heart disease in the first place; a Harvard study followed about 1,000 men without coronary artery disease for 10 years, and the cynics were > 50% more likely to end up developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Optimists are more likely to have lower blood pressure and require fewer or no medications than their negative (hypertensive) neighbors.
  • In 2006, a group of approximately 200 health subjects were exposed to a common respiratory virus, and the happier people were less likely to develop significant symptoms compared to their surly (and now sniffly) peers.
  • In a study of more than 2,000 seniors, a cheery disposition significantly increased their odds of being able to remain living independently.
  • We know that laughter is contagious, but researchers also found that a good belly laugh revs your heart rate and your energy burning; 10 – 15 minutes of hearty laughter can burn 10 to 40 calories.
  • One of the earliest American studies regarding on how your outlook affects your health found that for every 10-point increase on a standardized pessimism rating scale, the corresponding mortality rate rose 19%.
  • Positive attitudes are associated with lower levels of CRP and IL-6, two key inflammatory markers often associated with higher risks of heart attacks and stroke.

Don’t worry if seeing the glass half-full does not come naturally to you though.  Optimism can be learned and taught.  (Ha, I just realized that only those of you who’d be worried or be telling yourself you’re a hopeless case would be those who are naturally more negative, so I guess that was sort of a silly thing to say.)  Nevertheless… if you would like to try and change your innate outlook, but aren’t sure where to start, a good quick overview I found on YouTube is: “Learned Optimism Positive Psychology” – Martin Seligman – Animated Book Review (practical psychology).  And the next video in the lineup is “Optimism – How to Become Optimist Right Now” (actualized.org).  It’s a bit longer, but both videos reference the book “Learned Optimism” by M. Seligman, which is one of the more respected works on the subject. So, if you would rather hold it in your hand than watch it on the computer, you could check that out too.

And finally, right now, before you put this paper down, SMILE!  You may feel silly, but the act of smiling triggers a release of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, and if you feel silly enough to laugh a bit, even better.  Laughing does the same.


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