Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
Looking on the Bright Side: Connection Between Optimism and Health

Looking on the Bright Side: Connection Between Optimism and Health

I read an interesting article on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website that examined a growing body of research suggesting a positive outlook can benefit physical health. That might seem like old news since we have been told by so many for so long to walk on “the sunny side of the street.”

We are often tempted to react negatively to this type of advice—to be positive, even dismissing it as Pollyannaish, a word that comes from Eleanor Porter’s book about a young girl (Pollyanna) who tries to find something positive in every situation. But, this is the NIH talking and not some feel-good type website from which one would expect this sort of thing.

Certain NIH-funded scientists are saying that research has found a link between an upbeat mental state and improved health, including lower blood pressure, reduced risk for heart disease, healthier weight, better blood sugar levels and longer life.

That is what I am interested in. How about you?

These experts talk about a quality called resilience. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the “process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.”

In simplest terms, it is "bouncing back" from difficult experiences. We all have difficult experiences and stressors in our lives. The question seems to be how do we handle them?

This might seem like an unusual topic for me to write about, but there has been a great deal of talk in the management literature in the last few years about the need for "emotional intelligence,” which means perceiving and expressing emotions, understanding emotions, using emotions and managing emotions. I am no expert on these matters, but I think it is important to pay attention to our own emotions and to those of the people around us.

The NIH study suggested that several techniques, including meditation, cognitive therapy (a type of psychotherapy) and self reflection (thinking about the things you find important) can help people develop the skills needed to make positive, healthful changes.

Maybe it is something to think about this week. In health care, we hear so much negativity about costs, access, quality and patient satisfaction. Yes, we want to improve in all of these areas, but we should not lose sight of the good things that we are doing. Furthermore, experts suggest that we should work on our own attitude and try to encourage those with whom we work. It is not being “Pollyanna.” It might just make us healthier!