Sunny disposition may improve your health

When I go to the Internet to research a topic or check my e-mail, I often get an instant message from my cousin, who signs himself as “your cutest and youngest cousin, Ed.”
We chat about the weather in Pennsylvania and his job. He tells me what’s going on with my Buffalo cousins and my Florida cousins.
And he often e-mails stories that make me chuckle, for my 60-year-old “cutest and youngest cousin” is a Gingerich. And like most of my Gingerich relatives, he is optimistic, laughs a lot, and always puts the best spin on everything.
I feel very fortunate to have been raised in two upbeat and fun-loving extended families. My father told jokes and loved to laugh. And I remember my grandmother, mother, and aunts laughing until they cried.
Even in the hard times, we laughed a lot at home and always had hope that things would be better sometime.
Life isn’t easy for anyone; but with my background, it’s pretty easy for me to be optimistic even when difficulties strike.
According to the latest research, I’m very lucky indeed. Researchers now report that optimism not only improves mental health and social life, but also affects physical health—and even increases longevity.
In a recent Dutch study, researchers concluded there definitely is a link between optimism and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Over a nine-year period, they observed optimistic older people were 77 percent less likely to die of a heart attack, stroke, or some other cardiovascular condition.
It seems optimism was a more important factor than age, weight, or previous heart problems.
So optimism is good for your heart!
Another study from the respected Mayo Clinic also associates positive mental outlook with longer life span. It seems that a very negative person—somebody who always expects the worst to happen in every situation—often sees a reduction in immune system function.
Mayo compared death rates of pessimists and optimists, as well as “middle-of-the-road” types. Researchers found that every 10-point increase in pessimism scores was associated with a 19 percent increase in the risk of death.
On a more mundane note, Chris Peterson from the University of Michigan, who has spent years studying optimism and how it relates to health, found pessimistic students had twice as many infectious diseases and made twice as many trips to the doctor as did the optimists.
So the facts are in: being optimistic is important to your health. But what if you aren’t a natural optimist? What can you do to change your outlook on life?
One psychologist believes schools should teach children about optimism so that no child has to face an illness with a negative attitude.
As adults, we must take responsibility for re-educating ourselves. Try viewing life not as a hassle, but as an adventure. Don’t make small catastrophes of what actually are routine events.
And most of all, don’t hang around with negative people. Some personality traits are contagious—one is optimism. Try to look on the sunny side of life so that cheerful people will want to be around you.
Always remember that as an optimist, you not only will live happier, but you also have a good chance of living longer.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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