We know the age-old question: If a glass is filled halfway with water, is it half full or half empty? As the story goes, optimistic people see the metaphorical glass half full, whereas pessimistic people see the glass half empty. While a person’s outlook on the world may only seem like an insignificant aspect of their character, science has revealed numerous concrete health benefits to optimism.
Before analyzing the positive effects of optimism, let’s first dissect what optimism is as a belief and as a biological phenomenon. As a theory, optimism can be understood as a person’s belief or confidence in positive and successful outcomes, sometimes despite evidence and past outcomes which suggest otherwise. According to a 2007 study which used neuroimaging technology to analyze how people imagine positive futures, there are two main regions involved in optimism: the rACC, a segment of the brain critical to emotion and cognition, and the amygdala, a part of the brain known for its importance to emotion, behavior, and fear processing. A
further suggests a correlation between optimistic bias and levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which helps us process pleasure.
Not only is optimism scientifically linked to our happiness and emotional processes, but it is also shown to have positive influences on our quality of life. According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of positive thinking include: increased life span, lower rates of depression, lower levels of distress, greater resistance to the common cold, better cardiovascular health, and better coping skills during hardships and times of stress. A 2010 study further argued that optimism increases adaptive behaviours and cognitive responses associated with flexibility, problem-solving ability, and efficient comprehension of negative information.
Luckily, scientific studies have found that most people are already optimists. However, those who lean on the pessimistic side can still experience and benefit from positive thinking! The aforementioned 2010 study suggested that the numerous benefits of optimism may simply be attributed to optimism’s promotion of a healthy lifestyle and people’s desire to be the best version of themselves. This theory indicates that optimism can be achieved through constructive practices and positive reflections.
And as Sweet Readers empowers young people by engaging them with isolated adults, you may find it interesting to know…
A 2020 publication found that humans are optimists for most of their lives, but there is a notable decrease in optimistic thoughts among the elderly, likely because older adults have more health concerns and the understanding that most of their lives are behind them. The 2007 study mentioned above did not find a link between optimism and the hippocampus, an area of the brain critical for memory. So there is hope, then, that increasing optimism and in turn, mental health, does not have to correlate with cognitive impairment. Together, these pieces of information demonstrate the importance of people of all ages interacting with and stimulating older adults!