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Why optimists enjoy better health

May 1, 2008

According to a series of studies, optimists enjoy better health than pessimists. The May issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch explores possible reasons for this connection.

Many studies have reported that optimism influences health. Among the findings:

  • Optimistic coronary bypass patients were only half as likely as pessimists to require re-hospitalization.
  • Highly pessimistic men were three times more likely to develop hypertension.
  • People with positive emotions had lower blood pressures.
  • In one study, the most pessimistic men were more than twice as likely to develop heart disease compared with the most optimistic.

These results argue persuasively that optimism is good for health. But people who are healthy are likely to have a brighter outlook than people who are ill, so perhaps optimism is actually the result of good health instead of the other way around. To counter this argument, scientists have adjusted their analyses to account for pre-existing medical conditions. The studies that made these adjustments found that existing illnesses did not tarnish the benefits of optimism.

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