What is Optimism?

The meaning beyond a verbal definition.

The Basics

WHAT: A summary of some significant studies on the correlation between optimism and health.

GREAT FOR: Emotional Health, Positive Thinking, Personal Development

AUTHOR: Aleksandra Cichuta (Founder of INNER FIRE, Emotional Wellness Coach & Psychologist)


What is Optimism?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines optimism as “the tendency to be hopeful and to emphasize the good part in a situation rather than the bad, or the feeling that in the future good things are more likely to happen than bad things.”

I would describe optimism as a choice to focus on what one wants and to expect positive outcomes or not have expectations at all, just being present and taking all as an opportunity to enjoy or grow through.

Optimism is now a well-researched topic and it is clear that it has a significant impact on health and well-being. In numerous medical studies, an optimistic outlook is strongly associated with better health outcomes: from helping people to recover from illness/surgery to boosting the immune system, to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, to significantly improving overall health and longevity in follow-up periods of 15–40 years.

Reasons to be an Optimist

Optimists Have Much Lower Risk of Disease and Mortality Rates

A major 2019 analysis of 15 studies (229,391 participants) compared optimists with pessimists. The studies found that people ranking high in optimism were much less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event and had a lower mortality rate from any cause than did pessimistic participants. Across all data, there was a strong relationship between optimism and a lower risk of disease, with optimists having a 35% lower risk of cardiovascular issues, and a 14% lower risk of premature deaths, than pessimists.

Optimism is Associated with Strong Immune Response

The 2010 University of Kentucky study tracked changes in optimism and immune response among law students. As the students became more optimistic, they showed stronger cell-mediated immunity, the flood of immune cells that respond to an invasion by foreign viruses or bacteria. When optimism dropped, so did cell-mediated immunity. The researchers concluded that positive thoughts affect immune systems, even in healthy people.

Optimists Are More Likely to Live to 85+

69,744 women were followed over 10 years and 1,429 men over 30 years in a study by Boston University and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study found that people with greater optimism are more likely to achieve “exceptional longevity”, living to age 85 or older.

Optimists Are More Likely to Engage in Healthy Behaviours

A 2018 study (Chapman University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) found that optimistic individuals were more likely to engage in three healthier behaviours: increasing physical activity, embracing a healthier diet, and refraining from smoking.

Expressing optimism about one’s future decreases depression and enhances well-being. A 2007 study done by Rene Dickerhoof, Rene Melissa at the University of California found that when optimism is expressed daily in the form of gratitude and also visualisation it decreased depression and increases well-being in general. However, this effect has a short living if the optimism is not expressed regularly. When stopped, the depression increases again after a month.


ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2007. 3270426 Expressing optimism and gratitude: A longitudinal investigation of cognitive strategies to increase well-being. Dickerhoof, Rene Melissa, University of California, Riverside. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2007. 3270426.

Jama Network, Association of Optimism With Cardiovascular Events and All-Cause Mortality. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, 2019, Alan Rozanski, Chirag Bavishi, Laura. D. Kubzanski.

Boston University and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2019, Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in 2 epidemiologic cohorts of men and women, Lewina O. Lee, Peter James, Emily S. Zevon, Eric S. Kim, Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, Avron Spiro III, Francine Grodstein, and Laura D. Kubzansky.  

US National Library of Medicine, 2010, Optimistic Expectancies and Cell-Mediated Immunity: The Role of Positive Affect, Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Sandra E. Sephton

Circulation Research, 2018, Is Optimism Associated With Healthier Cardiovascular-Related Behavior? Meta-Analyses of 3 Health Behaviors, Julia K. Boehm, Ying Chen, Hayami Koga, Maya B. Mathur, Loryana L. Vie and Laura D. Kubzansky

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