Attitude & Health
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | August 13, 2002

Can your attitude determine how healthy you are and how long you live? Most people would suspect that's true, but there's been no hard evidence. Until now. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have recently published research supporting the concept that people who are optimistic are healthier and live longer than pessimists (1-2).

The researchers followed up on people who took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) during routine medical visits as part of a larger study in the 1960s. They were contacted 30 years later to assess their status--whether they were alive or not and their overall health.

The researchers found that:

  • Those who had MMPI scores that indicated they were optimists had a lower than expected sickness and death rate compared to people of similar backgrounds.
  • Pessimists had rates higher than expected.
  • Neither optimists nor pessimists followed the norm.
The question is: why? The researchers speculated that when faced with health challenges, optimists may have a better attitude toward medical care and seek out medical help sooner, and therefore receive treatment earlier, than pessimists do. It may be that optimists are less likely to develop depression when faced with a health crisis. Pessimists may blame themselves more for their fate and take a "what's the use?" attitude toward their health. It may be a combination of all these things and more.

But that doesn't mean having a Pollyanna-ish attitude either. Researchers have found that when exposed to acute stress, immune function is higher in optimists--but their immune systems actually do worse after continued exposure to severe stress (3). It may be that optimistic people fatigue after continued exposure because they don't believe bad things can happen to them. Also, a challenged immune function doesn't mean they quit--just that their systems were compromised a little more.

The great thing is that you can change your attitude. While it seems that attitude may be in part hard-wired, it can also be a learned behavior. Reading positive and practical books, listening to uplifting cassettes and audio CDs are important. Most important, select carefully those you associate with--nothing ruins your attitude faster than being around negative, pessimistic people. As always, we at Better Life Unlimited recommend that if you feel you need help, seek a qualified healthcare professional for an assessment and guidance.

What you think about and the friends you choose may impact how long you live. Research suggests you choose wisely.

References:

  1. Maruta T, et al. Optimism-pessimism assessed in the 1960s and self-reported health status 30 years later. Mayo Clin Proc. 2002. 77(8):748-753.
  2. Maruta T, et al. Optimists vs pessimists: survival rate among medical patients over a 30-year period. Mayo Clin Proc 2000 75(2):140-3.
  3. Cohen F, et al. Differential immune system changes with acute and persistent stress for optimists vs pessimists. Brain Behav Immun. 1999. 13(2):155-74.
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