Sunny Side Up

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Dec 10, 2011

"I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I have conquered my nightmares because of my dreams."
Dr. Jonas Salk

What a joy it is to be around optimistic people! They have an outlook on life which tenaciously plows through the gloom and doom of life and they come out the other side with a smile on their faces. No matter how many the problems or how dark the storm, these people have a capacity to be resilient no matter what. 

Depending on what research you read, did you know that optimists:

  • Are 9 percent less likely to develop heart disease.
  • Are only 77 percent likely to be re-hospitalized after some types of major surgery.
  • Have blood pressure that's five points lower, on average.
  • Live an average of 9.5 years longer. 
Meryl Davids Landau wrote a thought provoking article in Reader's Digest titled "Why It's Smart to Be Optimistic." In the article she references Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom who has been researching the principles and payoffs of optimism. She references three. 

    1. Feeling well helps when you're not well. "When researchers look at people who have similar medical conditions, they can predict who's likely to live longer: the one who feels his health is better. There's something about that feeling of wellness that's important, even - maybe especially - if you are ill." 

    "Optimism also seems to help buffer you against stress. I've been studying first year law students for 16 years. That's a very stressed group, but in my most recent study, each time a student's optimism increased one point on a five point scale, his immune response to an injected virus or yeast improved by 20 percent." 

    2. Optimism is something you do. "Research shows that people who are optimistic about their future behave differently. They exercise more, are less likely to smoke, and follow a better diet. And if they get sick, they're more apt to participate in their treatment." 

    3. Not happy? Don't worry. "Happiness is a feeling; optimism is a belief that aspects of your future will turn out well. Happiness can fluctuate a lot, but an optimistic disposition is usually pretty stable. If you're not optimistic, you can try creating a 'positive events' log." 

    "Good things happen to everyone, but pessimists often don't take notice; spending a few minutes every day writing about at least three positive things may help you expect them more often. Or instead of trying to be optimistic, do what optimists do: Work hard to reach your goals. Each accomplishment should make it easier to be hopeful about the next one." 

    I am always amazed by the optimism of people like Viktor Frankl, who survived the Nazi death camps. His book, Man's Search for Meaning, reflects an incredible outlook on life. As he once said, "In suffering, your attitude is more important than the pain you experience." 

    Or as I once heard Larry Freitag say, "Bad attitudes will make you a prisoner of your circumstances." Years ago Luke and Edna Weaver came into our family circle. They had been Old Order Amish (as we would call them, horse and buggy Amish) and after having a dynamic spiritual experience they started a little church which our family attended. 

    Our family faced some tough times back then. My father died when I was a junior in high school and overnight my mother became a single parent of my three siblings and me. Right then, the Weavers came with their refreshing approach toward life. Their wisdom sprinkled with laughter brought a lift to our family when we needed it the most. 

    My own mother was another example of that kind of person. In spite of the loss of her young husband, she had the capacity of looking beyond that loss to what she had left. 

    I guess that's why Helen Keller said, "Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow." 

    Think about it.

    Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
    Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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