You’ve seen them. You may even be one. That person who always sees the bright side, finds the silver lining and smiles through the rough times. Nothing is impossible for these positive thinkers, ever hopeful that their time will come. So, why do they do it? And, perhaps, most importantly, how? 

Research tells us that a positive attitude can affect a person’s overall health and longevity, which can make a big difference in how the body responds to an illness or surgery. Harvard’s Men’s Health Watch published a study on how having an optimistic outlook early in life can determine health down the road. Over a period of 15 to 40 years, the study’s optimistic participants showed better health and a lower rate of death than those with glass half-empty viewpoints. 

A 2006 study looked at how emotions and viral infections affect the respiratory tract. Researchers gave 193 healthy volunteers the same common respiratory virus. Those with optimistic personalities were less likely to develop viral symptoms. Imagine how this could impact a person’s recovery when the immune system is working overtime. 

Still skeptical?

In the Netherlands, researchers tracked 545 men who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer beginning in 1985. Over 15 years, the optimists were 55% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than the pessimists, even with cardiovascular risk factored for each person. 

The list of studies goes on and on, giving all the more reason to turn that frown upside down. For people recovering or rehabilitating after an accident, illness or surgery, a positive outlook can be the difference that gets them well again. Here are four reasons why:

Fights depression

Optimism is the perfect protector against depression during recovery. For instance, when an optimistic person and a pessimistic person experience the same stumbling block, depression is much more likely to fall upon the pessimist. A positive person rises to the challenge, seeing the event as temporary. Whereas a negative person becomes depressed and gives up, seeing the setback as permanent. 

Zaps stress

Stress causes havoc on your body, potentially leading to a weakened immune system, inflammatory damage and chronic pain. Maintaining an optimistic outlook limits the effects of stress, helping a person make better life decisions. For those participating in rehabilitation programs, positive outlooks are golden, helping to keep progress in check and goals within reach.

Calms blood pressure

Finland scientists set out to see if a positive attitude could help lower blood pressure. The findings were eye-opening. Evaluating blood pressure, cardiovascular risk factors and mental outlook of 616 men over four years, the team concluded that highly pessimistic men were three times more likely to develop hypertension than those with a positive edge. Staying positive keeps blood pressure on track, supporting the recovery progress and improved overall health.

Helps the heart

Want to have a happy heart during recovery? Today’s researchers say being optimistic is a good place to start. In one study, doctors performed a psychological evaluation of 309 middle-aged patients scheduled for coronary artery bypass surgery and tracked them for six months after surgery. They found that optimists were only half as likely as pessimists to require rehospitalization. A six-month study of 298 angioplasty patients revealed pessimists were three times more likely than optimists to have heart attacks or need repeat cardiac procedures. 

How to fill your cup with optimism

The great thing about being an optimist is that the more you practice being positive, the easier it gets. Need some pointers? Try these helpful tips:

Reframe the situation

Instead of dwelling on the pain you may experience during recovery, think of how good it will feel to get back to activities. Or, rather than worrying about whether or not you can complete your rehabilitation exercises, focus on what you can do, celebrating every small victory.

Be resilient 

Change is part of life. Learning to face your challenges head on and adapting quickly moves you past the event, sending your focus in a more positive direction for the future.

Smile more

A University of Kansas study found that smiling, whether you feel like it or not, reduces heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations. Next time you hit a roadblock, look for a reason to smile – watch a funny video, look at silly photos of the grandkids, or give yourself a pep talk. You’ll likely walk away feeling more optimistic and hopeful for the good things yet to come.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention

Sign Up