A positive attitude will add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life".
Who is rich? The one who is happy with his portion. (Avos 4:1) Is your glass half full or half empty? In other words, do you have a positive or negative outlook on life? And taking this a step further, is good mental health simply the absence of a disorder like depression, anxiety or a phobia, or is the development of meaning, fulfillment and positive emotions all crucial to the quality of daily life? We certainly believe that doing G-D's will results in a more rewarding and happy life. How important is happiness and can being positive enhance your health?
Most of 20th century psychiatry and psychology has worked within a medical model with the goal of moving people from painful mental states to more neutral ones. But newer thinkers in the world of psychology now think that positive emotions, psychological states and optimal human functioning can assist people in their quest for joy and fulfillment.
Dr. Abraham Maslow is the one credited with coining the term positive psychology in the 1950s and he introduced the concept of self-actualizationa yearning for growth and meaning in life. But it was Dr. Martin Seligman who broke new ground in the 1990s with the concept of learned optimism which is the basis of todays study of happiness; A short while ago, Seligman came out with the concept of PERMAPositive Emotion, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. As novel as this new psychological approach may seem, research is beginning to bear out the benefits of positive thinking and happiness.
Among the studies Seligman mentions is one from the mid-1980s, where 120 men from
Of the sixteen most pessimistic men, fifteen died. Of the sixteen most optimistic men, only five died. This finding has been repeatedly confirmed in larger studies of cardiovascular disease, using varied measures of optimism:
Similar studies showed similar results. Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study done in 1986, tracked 1,306 veterans for ten years. During that time, 162 cases of cardiovascular disease occurred. Smoking, alcohol use, blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass, family history of CVD, and education were measured, as was anxiety, depression, and hostility. Men with the most optimistic style had 25% less CVD than average, and men with the least optimism had 25% more CVD than average. This trend was strong and continuous, indicating that:
GREATER OPTIMISM PROTECTED THE MEN, WHEREAS LESS OPTIMISM WEAKENED THEM.
In the European Prospective Investigation, more than 20,000 healthy British adults were followed from 1996-2002 during which 994 of them died, 365 of them from Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). Death from cardiovascular disease was strongly influenced by a sense of mastery funny cat pictures, holding smoking, social class, and the other psychological variables constant. People high in mastery had 20% fewer CVD deaths than those with an average sense of mastery, and people high in a sense of helplessness had 20% more CVD deaths than average. This was also true of deaths due to all causes.
999 Dutch men and women aged sixty-five to eighty-five were followed for nine years. In that time, 397 of them died. At the outset, researchers measured health, education, smoking, alcohol, history of cardiovascular disease, marriage; body mass, blood pressure, and cholesterol along with optimism. Pessimism was very strongly associated with mortality, particularly when holding all the other risk factors constant. Optimists had only 23% the rate of CVD deaths of the pessimists. Interestingly this protection was specific to optimism, a future-oriented cognition, and present-oriented mood items.
Perhaps depression is the real culprit? Pessimism, in general, correlates pretty highly with depression, and depression, in many studies, also correlates with cardiovascular disease. So you might wonder if the lethal effect of pessimism works by increasing depression. The answer seems to be no, since optimism and pessimism exerted their effects even when depression was held constant statistically.
In the largest study of the relationship between optimism and cardiovascular disease to date, ninety-seven thousand women, healthy at the outset of the study in 1994, were followed for eight years. As usual in careful epidemiological studies, age, race, education, religious attendance, health, body mass, alcohol, smoking, blood pressure, and cholesterol were recorded at the start. Epidemiological studies investigate patterns of health in large populations. Optimism was measured in yet another way by the well-validated Life Orientation Test (
According to happiness researcher Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky of the
Adapted from an article by Alan Frieshtat from "Lose IT" in