THE BLOG
07/31/2015 07:40 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

7 Ways Optimism Is Good For Your Health

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"Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised." ~ Denis Waitley

My dad has always loved to tell the story about when he was a kid and an older boy offered to pay for his ticket if he would ride in the first car of the Cyclone -- that very large roller coaster ride at the Coney Island Amusement Park in Brooklyn. While telling his story, my dad's face would brighten right before the punch-line of the story -- that when the ride was over, he asked the boy for another ticket to ride the Cyclone again because he loved it so much.

Throughout the past two months, my dad has taken my family on a roller coaster ride with his health's ups and downs that would top the nerve-wracking nature of the Cyclone. Every day has been so unpredictable, with days in which we thought he might not live out the week, and other days in which he has had me sobbing with tears of joy and elation.

Throughout this roller coaster ride, I have made the conscious choice to remain optimistic. That is, I've chosen to focus on whatever positive feeling or thought I could find that day, to not become morose or morbid on his low days, and to allow myself to fully enjoy my dad's good days. It's not that I don't know what all the negative possibilities are. My experience over the 25 years working in long-term care facilities has made me acutely aware of the obvious possible negative outcomes.

However, I've also seen some amazing positive outcomes over the years, and I see no harm in expecting that my dad might have such an experience. I call myself a realistic optimist, although some say that I wear rose-colored glasses I'm aware that my dad will eventually die, just as I'm aware that we will all eventually die. There is no getting out of this world alive for any of us, after all. I'm also very well aware that, at the age of 93 and with his health issues, the time that he has left is not likely to be as plentiful as it is for many of us. Yet, I have not given up on my dad and the possibility that he might have some time left in which to enjoy his family, to laugh, and to tell stories (or at least, listen to stories, as his speech has been impaired most recently) about some of the amazing adventures in his long life. And, if I'm wrong and he doesn't get to do any of that at all, then I see no harm in holding that intention for him. In the end, there will have been no regrets.

We always have a choice in the way that we view our circumstances -- the glass is either half empty or half full. I choose to err on the side of optimism. I wasn't born with an optimistic attitude nor do I consistently have this perspective. But here are seven reasons to be optimistic, even in difficult situations:

1. Positive moods increase and depression decreases. This is due to the positive self-talk we engage in when we're feeling good about life. Listen to my interview with Beverly Flaxington on my radio show, where we discuss the direct effect of self-talk on mood. Also, be sure to read my blog, Changing Your Thoughts Can Change How You Feel. Furthermore, optimism increases "happy" chemicals in the brain (endorphins), which are natural mood elevators and pain relievers, while pessimism tends to lead to more social isolation, which leads to increased depressed mood.

2. The immune system is boosted, helping us to fight off diseases ranging from the common cold to cancer.

3. Realistic optimism leads to a higher likelihood of sticking to healthy regimens of diet and exercise.

4. Optimism adds to better resiliency following negative life events. For example, pessimists have been found to be more likely to die within the first six months after the death of a spouse, while people who are optimistic about their own aging tend to live an average of 7.5 years longer.

5. Hormonal balance is stabilized, leading to more energy and a younger appearance.

6. A positive attitude leads to a healthier heart and more stable blood sugar.

7. Our problem-solving ability also increases.

With all these life-enhancing results of having a positive attitude, it's a good idea to put a little bit of effort into an attitude adjustment. Be sure to check in with my next blog for Tips on Becoming a Realistic Optimist.
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