Keeping the glass half full might be the secret to a healthier, longer life.
That’s according to an analysis published Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found optimism to be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events. The same report found pessimism was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular problems.
The research cannot prove, however, that being optimistic is the driver of a better heart, just that there is an association.
“People that are optimistic and feel more hopeful and positive about the future are more likely to experience less stress and anxiety,” said Chantelle Rice, an occupational therapy professor at USC. “They're more likely to feel motivated and engaged when they have something they want to achieve.”
Mental health is an important part of conversations on college campuses, where anxiety and stress levels run high. A study from UC Berkeley found that the number of students suffering from anxiety disorders has doubled since 2008.
Students and professionals alike have strategies for combating stress and promoting optimism in their lives.
“We’re always told that the best medicine is laughter so this goes right along with that,” said Hala Ozgur, a sophomore studying journalism at USC, when asked about her thoughts on the new optimism findings.
Rice, who is also the director of an on-campus occupational therapy practice, said her own clinic has several strategies for increasing optimism.
“We help people envision a future for themselves,” said Rice. “[We] help them identify goals that will get them toward that future state, help them break down goals into action items, implement behavior changes. People see results — they start to feel better, they become more confident and they become more optimistic.”
USC also offers a stress-management class that some students are taking.
“We do yoga in class, which is pretty nice,” said Amin Mahouv, a sophomore studying electrical engineering. “[The professor] also makes us look at meditation in a different way: rather than relaxing your mind it's more like taking a break.”
When asked whether he found himself to be an optimistic person, Mahouv said it’s often dependent on his circumstances.
“The more I'm stressed, the more pessimistic I get,” he said.
Max Vinaei, a sophomore studying astronautical engineering, is also taking the stress management class.
“[The professor will] talk about taking time out of your day to just relax and clear your mind,” said Vinaei, an astronautical engineering major. “We actually do meditation, stretching, and he’ll talk about the right diet, ways to cope with stress, and other things as well.”
Other students also had practical ways for staying optimistic, pointing to music and family as stress relievers.
“I like to play my guitar, and after doing that it gets me into more of an optimistic mindset,” says Thelonious Cunieff, a sophomore studying GeoDesign.
Cunieff also likes to watch funny videos online. “It helps me reset and take myself out of whatever I'm dealing with at the moment. Also walking — night walks, day walks.”
Amara Bryson, a sophomore studying political science, says she likes to talk with family when she’s feeling down.
“Talking to family and reminding myself of all the good things around me — how far I've come, my accomplishments — all of that,” said Bryson.
Rice also offered a few suggestions on practicing optimism. She said it’s a behavior that can be learned by changing thought patterns.
“Practicing gratitude,” said Rice. “When people can spend time thinking about what they are grateful for they start to recognize how much is actually going well in their lives.”
Rice also referenced journaling as an effective way to combat negative thinking.
“Journaling exercises can help with that also — becoming aware of negative thinking,” Rice said. “It can manage negative thinking and it can focus on gratitude specifically.”
So, on the bright side, there is hope for everyone.