Optimists Recover More Quickly After Bereavement

Rose-tinted SpectaclesNew research, published in Health Psychology, has found that optimists recover more quickly than pessimists after a death or the onset of severe illness in the family. This is the latest in a line of research supporting the idea that being optimistic is good for your health. Optimists have been found to live as much as 19% longer – perhaps because they have more friends, persist at healthy behaviours and have stronger immune systems.

Participants in this research were assessed for optimism and pessimism using the Life Orientation Test, while sick days were used in this research as an indication of health levels. The authors argue that this is more accurate than self-report methods of assessing health. These tend to be open to a variety of problems including people simply forgetting or misreporting when they were ill.

So, how is possible to stay positive when life is treating you like a punch-bag? Dr Raj Persaud in his book ‘The Motivated Mind’ reports research into the differing mental habits of optimists and pessimists showing it’s all in how we interpret past successes and failures.

Half-Empty – When something bad happens to a pessimist, they assume it is representative of a pervasive problem. This can lead to ‘catastrophising’ – allowing a setback to have disastrous implications for the rest of your life. To compound the problem a pessimist will also assume that a problem encountered is permanent and personal.

Half-Full – When something bad happens to an optimist, they do the exact opposite. An optimist tends to restrict the event’s implications, avoid taking it personally and assume it is only a temporary state of affairs.

What about if something good happens to an optimist and a pessimist? Reverse the patterns seen above. An optimist will let it spill over into other areas of their life as well as assuming it’s personal and permanent.

And a pessimist doesn’t.

Pessimists, of course, will claim that optimists suffer from ‘False Hope Syndrome‘ – but that’s just typical of their negative thinking!

Optimism and Pessimism as Predictors of Change in Health After Death or Onset of Severe Illness in Family [PDF]
Press Release



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Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 24 July 2005

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