Is your glass half empty or half full? Yes, it’s the old optimist vs. pessimist debate again, only this time; scientists are saying that a fatalistic view on life may actually be doing real, physical damage to our health and the health of those around us.New research has shown that pessimism can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and looked at the effects of optimism and pessimism in 97,253 postmenopausal women. Before the study took place, the women were all free of cancer and heart disease.
The tests included questionnaires to measure optimism and cynical hostility, with yes or no answers to statements like “In unclear times I usually expect the best” and “If something can go wrong for me it will.”
Women who scored highly on the optimistic statements were 16 percent less likely to have a stroke and 30 percent less likely to die of heart-disease related illnesses compared to those who scored highly on the pessimistic statements.
The researchers concluded that these results were likely due to the way the two personality types tend to deal with problems. Optimists are less likely to become overstressed by a problem, and they take the time to assess a situation and find a way to tackle the problem, while the pessimist may feel overwhelmed and avoid dealing with the situation.
Another study, carried out in Tilburg, the Netherlands, found that people who are naturally more grouchy and pessimistic about life have a more difficult time recovering after heart problems, and are also more likely to experience a relapse.
Clearly, our attitude towards life can affect us in a physical way, which makes it all the more important for us to keep our thoughts and attitudes in check.
One interesting factor that was noted by the researchers is that optimists tend to be younger than pessimists. This is easy to understand because as we get older, and see more and more of the world’s problems, our experience leads us to believe that life will always let us down.
We become more jaded and find it easier to expect the worst case scenarios and not be disappointed than to dwell on the positive side of life. However, by adopting this type of attitude, we are actually denying ourselves the opportunity to enjoy life.
Of course, it’s good to have realistic expectations and not get carried away with wishful thinking, but there is a fine line between realism and pessimism, and once you cross that line you are seriously undermining your health and happiness.
Pessimism is counterproductive and self-defeating, because the way you react to people and situations does have an effect on how things play out. If you are always thinking thoughts like “people are so rude these days” or “all men are pigs,” chances are, your own body language or attitude is rude or standoffish, and people are going to respond to you in the way you expect them to.
If you exude positive energy and always try to take an optimistic stance on life, you will find that more often than not, things will work out for you one way or another. Of course you’ll experience some disappointments, but that doesn’t mean that life will always throw you lemons.
The first step is to banish all negative phrases from your vocabulary. Things like “I can’t” or “it’s impossible” should not be allowed to enter your mind, because if you give in to these thoughts, you are setting yourself up for failure before you have even tried.
Pessimism is demoralizing and makes you weak, so cheer up, stop complaining and try seeing the glass half full every now and then. You’ll soon find that even though you can’t always change your circumstances, a positive attitude will bring out the best in you and those around you.