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Spartan Scoop


Encouraging an optimistic lifestyle can improve your health and happiness
Karma Patey
A ray of sunshine cuddled up in a blanket with a warm drink

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When something goes wrong in life, who do you tend to blame? Are you the source of all issues in the world, or was it all a coincidence? Your answer to these questions might reveal where you lean on the optimistic or pessimistic spectrum. Now take into account how happy you truly feel you are. If you feel something is holding you back from happiness, your pessimism could be the object in question. While none of this sounds very uplifting, the good news is that optimism can be learned and you are capable of achieving it. 

It has been shown in a number of different studies that people who actively practice optimism and build joyful habits in their lives are happier overall. Why is this? What about optimism unlocks the guide to a content life? Let’s unpack that. 

While these may seem like overrated or cliche habits there is evidence to support that these activities do increase happiness.

First, it is important to understand that optimism and pessimism are mindsets, not set moods or attitudes, says Kids Health. “Optimists see the positive side of things. They expect things to turn out well. They believe they have the skill and ability to make good things happen…A pessimist is more likely to expect things to turn out poorly or to focus on what didn’t go well.” Anyone can lean towards either side of the spectrum. 

Taking the basics of these mindsets into account we can explore why they have different effects on happiness. The National Library of Medicine notes that, “Optimism may significantly influence mental and physical well-being by the promotion of a healthy lifestyle as well as by adaptive behaviors and cognitive responses, associated with greater flexibility, problem-solving capacity and a more efficient elaboration of negative information.”

A good example of these behaviors is how optimists view success. Kids Health explains that when something positive happens to an optimist they think on what they did to achieve it, and reflect on their own growth. Similarly, when something doesn’t go perfectly, optimists are inclined to believe that it has to do with something out of their control. Optimists are less likely to place blame on themselves.

 “Because they don’t view setbacks as personal failings, optimists are able to bounce back from disappointment better than pessimists” (Kids Health). 

Optimism can also lead people to be more grateful, which has been proven to uplift one’s mood. In two different studies where participants practiced gratitude they reported higher states of hope and happiness for the future (Taylor and Francis Online). Healthline suggests thinking of the little things, focusing on the positive moments of your day can help you to feel the benefit of a heightened mood. Even writing down a list of happy moments is proven to help you reflect and feel better about your day (Kids Health). 

It has also been recorded that optimistic people cope better with stress. While a pessimist might sit and worry about a stressor in their life, an optimist will try to solve the problem causing stress. An example For Dummies provides of this is a pessimistic person with heart disease may sit and worry about his next heart attack while an optimist will focus on what he can do to avoid one. The optimist will build healthy habits to avoid the negative outcome. This is not to say that pessimists can’t also form such habits, rather that anyone can, but as they do they are practicing optimism. 

Healthline explains many of the different ways people can practice happy life choices. Some examples are as simple as smiling, regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and taking deep breaths. While these may seem like overrated or cliche habits there is evidence to support that these activities do increase happiness. 

Smiling is known to be a product of cheerfulness, but it has been determined that our brains can interpret the same feeling in reverse order. The “facial feedback hypothesis” explores the correlation between our expressions and current mood. It suggests that simply smiling will help you feel at least the smallest bit happier. While it is noted this theory is not a one hundred percent guarantee that smiling will alter your mood, it has often been reported to work. 

Healthline also suggests that creating a tidy space and schedule for yourself can have a beneficial effect. When we give ourselves room to reflect and just exist, stress often finds its way slowly out of the door. Abandoning items that “aren’t serving you anymore” can spark productivity and prevent high stress. This can keep you from dreading trivial tasks, like cleaning out the junk drawer. Setting out time for specific events can help one’s outlook as well, it provides you with blocked out relaxation or free time. 

While feeling happy is great, these practices can also help improve the physical health and overall lifespan of those who commit to doing them. 

Regular exercise and sleep are generally good for your health and necessary for a properly functioning body and brain. Anyone is capable of working towards better exercise and sleep, and even if the goal isn’t a mood change but better health, happiness seems to follow along with it. This only correlates to optimism because optimists are more willing to accept these facts and focus on their health rather than other stressful aspects of life. 

It has also been noted that an optimistic lifestyle can have surprising effects on one’s blood pressure and heart health. In one study roughly 300 males who were scheduled to receive a coronary bypass surgery were given psychological evaluations before undergoing surgery (Harvard Health Publishing). The patients were then monitored for the next six months post operation. When scientists analyzed the data they found that, “…optimists were only half as likely as pessimists to require re-hospitalization.”

When it comes to blood pressure, a study of 2,564 American men and women studied over a period of four years revealed that optimistic participants on average had more ideal results. Other factors like height, weight, and personal vices were taken into account, but even so optimists had lowered levels of blood pressure. “On average, the people with the most positive emotions had the lowest blood pressures.” 

Although it may require some work on your part, optimism has many positive effects that make looking on the bright side of things worthwhile. So the next time life gets you down, remember that you are the key to your own happiness, and that the benefits of intentional optimism can last for life. 

About the Contributors
Andrew Buchholz
Andrew Buchholz, Reporter
"I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it" (Alice Walker).
Karma Patey
Karma Patey, Illustrator
the dude who draws the things who isn't the other one