Look for the silver lining…
Buddy DeSylva's upbeat lyrics to Jerome Kern's lovely tune provide an appealing call to a positive outlook on life, even in the face of adversity. Indeed, a cheerful disposition can help you get through the tough patches that cloud every life, but do people who see the glass half-full also enjoy better health than gloomy types who see it half-empty?
According to a series of studies from the U.S. and Europe, the answer is yes. Optimism helps people cope with disease and recover from surgery. Even more impressive is the impact of a positive outlook on overall health and longevity. Research tells us that an optimistic outlook early in life can predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years.
To investigate optimism, scientists first needed to develop reliable ways to measure the trait. Two systems are in widespread use; one measures dispositional optimism, the other explanatory style.
Dispositional optimism depends on positive expectations for one's future. These are not confined to one or two aspects of life, but are generalized expectations for a good outcome in several areas. Many researchers use the 12-item Life Orientation Test to measure dispositional optimism.
Explanatory style is based on how a person explains good or bad news. The pessimist assumes blame for bad news ("It's me"), assumes the situation is stable ("It will last forever"), and has a global impact ("It will affect everything I do"). The optimist, on the other hand, does not assume blame for negative events. Instead, he tends to give himself credit for good news, assume good things will last, and be confident that positive developments will spill over into many areas of his life. Researchers often use either the Attributional Style Questionnaire or the Content Analysis of Verbatim Explanations method to evaluate optimism based on explanatory style.
|Optimistic sports fans|
Sports fans will get a kick from a French study of cardiovascular mortality. On July 12, 1988, France bested Brazil in the biggest sporting event ever held in France, the finals of the World Cup of soccer. French men enjoyed a lower cardiovascular death rate on July 12 than on the average of the other days between July 7 and July 17, but French women did not. Doctors don’t know why fatal heart attacks declined; perhaps a burst of optimism is responsible.
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