Optimism is good for you
Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Just in case you missed it, reports appeared in the media recently that being optimistic helps you live longer. If you are optimistic, you are more likely to be happy – and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that happiness is good for your health. Studies have revealed that happy people have lower blood pressure and a lower heart rate.
Also, scientists have discovered that happiness strengthens your immune system and makes you less susceptible to certain medical complaints. The immune system activity in the same individual goes up and down depending on their happiness.
Another study suggests that positive emotion also mitigates pain in the context of disease, and in general people who are positive experience fewer aches and pains.
Happiness also combats stress. Stress is not only upsetting on a psychological level but also triggers biological changes in our hormones and blood pressure. Happiness seems to temper these effects, or at least help us recover more quickly.
Happiness is also associated with improvements in more severe, long-term conditions. In a study of nearly 10,000 Australians, participants who reported being happy and satisfied with life most or all of the time were about 1.5 times less likely to have long-term health conditions.
So are you a Pollyanna or an Eeyore? Is your glass half full or half empty? I assume that like many of us you are a combination of both. But how do other people perceive you? I was on a business trip in the wilds of Russia a few years ago, and one of the two guys I was working with, and who was also in charge of the project, commented that he thought I was a real pessimist. This came as a bit of a shock. I definitely perceived myself as an optimistic type. But then he pointed out a number of occasions on the trip when my comments on how things were going could only be taken as doom and gloom.
He was perfectly pleasant about it, but it did make me think. When I say we were in the wilds of Russia, I kid you not. A day later we flew to Ishevsk in the Ural Mountains; it is famous for its defence, engineering and metallurgy industries, none of which contributed to it being on our itinerary. We had meetings and visits as planned. All went well until I politely enquired of our hosts as to which hotel we were staying at.
The reply was not very comforting. It turned out that because of local elections all the hotels in town were booked and we would be put up at a sanatorium outside of town. It was dark by the time our taxi headed off into the woods. It was cold and there was thick snow on the ground. We were all hungry and my two male companions got increasingly edgy and worried as our winter wonderland journey proceeded.
The shoe was now definitely on the other foot. I stayed resolutely optimistic and calm and assured them it would all work out. To my colleagues’ great relief we finally arrived, only to find the restaurant had closed for the night. A bored concierge was far more interested in her nails than in discussing the options available for feeding her guests. In my best, terse Russian I explained that we were hungry, wished to eat now, and furthermore two of us were vegetarian. Somehow it got through and a table of food was produced.
You can be sure that I pointed out how a firm, optimistic stance had paid off. My colleague had the grace to apologise.