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Why Optimists May Be Healthier

People who are optimistic by nature may be healthier than their more pessimistic friends.

That sunny personality so characteristic of optimists actually encourages friends and family to be extra kind and caring to them, offering assistance and support in a way most of us don't do for pessimists. Call it social capital. Optimists are not only rich in social capital, but also tend to get even richer as the years go by.

Why are optimists healthier than pessimists? It's the domino theory. Optimists are supported by others. People who feel supported by others take better care of themselves. In addition, such social support may lower blood pressure and stress hormones, which helps the immune and cardiovascular systems, USA Today reports of  a new research from the University of Utah.

The study showed that such social support is "portable." That is, when optimists move to a new town, they tend to meet new friends and get the same amount of support they had in their previous home. Lead study author Timothy Smith told USA Today that it's their perception of support that most affects health, not the reality. Getting the kind of support you need is important. Smith told USA Today, "It's very bad to want affirmation or emotional support and get advice instead."

The best kind of support is invisible, hardly even noticed by the recipient. It's not the grand gesture, but the quiet one that offers support without making the recipient feel need or less able. These conclusions were reinforced in a study conducted by Gail Ironson of the University of Miami. Her research team followed 84 HIV-positive men. Those who had divulged their HIV status to family and friends showed significantly slower disease progression over a six-month period than men who hadn't disclosed their condition, notes USA Today. By telling others of their condition, they received support. "Maybe they take their meds more often because people know, or they have less stress," Ironson told USA Today. "But those who disclose seem to have some sense it's going to help them, because they do get support, and that's what's affecting their health."

There is one area in life where pessimists rule: gambling. Pessimists tend to make safer and more conservative choices than their optimistic counterparts, according to a study by Central Michigan social psychologist Bryan Gibson and David Sanbonmatsu of the University of Utah. But wait! Although optimists are more likely to lose--they'll keep rolling the dice, always believing the next one will be a winner--they are also more likely to win big.

 
 
 
 
  
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