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Healthy Aging

6 Ways to Boost Optimism and How It Benefits Your Health

Picture of American Specialty Health
By American Specialty Health on January 22, 2024
6 Ways to Boost Optimism and How It Benefits Your Health
Optimism is about more than feeling hopeful. It’s a trait that can improve your health and well-being in big ways. Here are 6 practical tips to help you build it.  

Optimism is the expectation that things will likely work out and that you have some control over the outcome. It’s the faith that problems can be solved and that the future is, for the most part, bright. It helps you see the glass (life) as half-full rather than half-empty. It gives you the confidence to overcome challenges and barriers.

Research suggests that optimism may also offer a host of health perks—both mental and physical. Findings also suggest it may lengthen your life. Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways optimism can do this. 


The health benefits that come from optimism 

You may be surprised to learn of all the ways a more hopeful mindset can support better health.

  • Physical health. Research suggests optimism may:
  • Improve heart health
  • Lessen the risk of stroke
  • Lower blood sugar
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Boost immunity
  • Lower the risk of some cancers
  • Motivate you to choose healthier habits
  • Mental health. Seeing the positive side of a situation can help you avoid stress. It is also linked to success in achieving goals. It can help you solve problems and think creatively. This kind of glass-half-full thinking can be linked to:
  • Improved mood
  • Positive self-image
  • Feelings of peace, happiness, and calm 


Greater optimism, longer life?  

Findings suggest that optimistic people may live longer. Researchers are not sure whether people grow more optimistic if they are healthy, or if good health makes people more optimistic. It is clear, though, that a link exists.

One reason may be tied to cardiovascular health. If stress is lowered through optimistic thinking, that lower stress may support your heart health. And since heart disease is a leading cause of death, improving your heart health may boost your chances for a longer life. Research also suggests that optimistic people tend to choose healthier habits. This may also play a role in the link between optimism and longevity. 


How can you become a more optimistic person?  

Optimism is not a trait you’re born with. It’s one you learn. It’s also a choice. Building greater optimism takes practice and determination. But you can train your mind to think more optimistically and less pessimistically. First, it may help to understand what the two opposite mindsets look like.

  • Pessimistic thinking in action. Say your check-engine light comes on as you’re enjoying a carefree drive to the park to meet a friend. Engine trouble derails your outing as you pull over and call for roadside service. You feel utterly dismayed as you think to yourself, “Oh, no. My day is ruined. I may need a new engine. I may even need a new car. I can’t afford that right now.” A cloud hangs over your head as you call your friend to cancel and wait for the tow truck.

  • Optimistic thinking in action. Imagine the same scenario. But this time, as you see the check-engine light come on, you pull over and think, “Hmm. Something is wrong with my car. No problem. I’ll call my friend and reschedule our get together for tomorrow. And then I’ll call the roadside service. (I’m so grateful I have that service!) My mechanic will figure it out. It might be a short with the light or some other simple problem. If it’s a more expensive problem, I’ll figure out a way to handle that, too, if and when I cross that bridge.”

You can see from this scenario how an optimist thinks on the bright side. Now let’s take a look at 6 nuts-and-bolts steps you can take to cultivate greater optimism.  

1. Take a look at what is going well

If circumstances have triggered a negative outlook, try this. Think of 3 things that are going well right now. What have you accomplished recently? You may want to write them down to help you pinpoint them more clearly.

Your 3 things could be small or major. Maybe you finally made a phone call to the insurance company that you had been putting off. Or maybe you or an adult child landed a new, exciting job. Perhaps you moved up to the next level in your fitness program or shed the 5 extra pounds you’ve been trying to lose. When you focus on what you’ve accomplished, and on the things that are going smoothly, you are using an optimistic approach to life.

2. Look to your past to be more optimistic about the present

Think back to when you gained wisdom and strength from a challenging time. Recall and use this past event to remind yourself that you came through that challenge. Think, as well, about how you did so. Then tell yourself you can tackle whatever problem you’re faced with now.  

You may want to write down what helped you through hard times in the past. Think about and note the lessons learned and the tools that you used, so you can apply them today and in the future.

3. Identify what you can control and accept what you can’t control

Sometimes you will run into a problem that can’t be solved easily. Instead of being pessimistic, use your problem-solving skills to try to find a solution. For example, you may be a runner who has participated in marathons. But lately, your knees become painful when you run. And your doctor has told you that continuing to run will only worsen your knee pain. Instead of being down in the dumps, think about ways to deal with this. Find a new form of exercise that puts less pressure on your knees. Turn to swimming. Or switch to cycling.  
4. Practice gratitude

High on the list of traits that can help build greater optimism: gratitude. Try to notice blessings throughout your day. These can be simple and without cost. Feel the sunshine on your shoulders. Savor that first sip of your morning coffee. Marvel at your dog joyfully running around on the lawn.  

Of course, you can be grateful for bigger or life-changing events, too. Moving to a beautiful new house, welcoming a child or grandchild, or celebrating the holidays can all foster gratitude.  

As suggested with noting your accomplishments, you may want to write down what you are grateful for in a journal. Then, when you are struggling to be optimistic, you can read back over what has brightened your life. You’ll likely be more optimistic in no time.

5. Find humor

Finding ways to laugh at life’s follies helps ease stress. And it helps make life’s daily little hassles easier to cope with. Humor can help you shift to a more overall optimistic mindset. Research suggests it may even help you cope with more serious problems, including certain health conditions. And it can help you take problems in stride.

When a minor setback strikes, try to make lighthearted fun of the situation and laugh about it, instead of taking it too seriously. Or, if you can’t quite find the humor in a difficult situation, look for other things to make you laugh. A funny movie or a joke shared with a friend are a few ways that can help.

6. Include things in your daily plans that bring you hope

When you are planning your day, the next month, or the next season, be sure to include things that bring you hope. This will be different for each person. Your spirits may rise when you spend time hiking out in nature. You may find meditation leads to calm and hope. Volunteering for a cause you care about may bolster your hope for enacting meaningful change in the world. If you enjoy travel, working on the itinerary for your next trip may build hope for a happy future.

Following these steps day in and day out can help you build a more optimistic attitude. And it’s worth it to do so. You’ll cope better with stress. You’ll more likely choose healthier habits. You may find it easier to bounce back from life’s hardships faster and more fully. And you may live a healthier, happier, and longer life.  



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This information is not intended to take the place of regular medical care or advice. Please check with your doctor before using this information or beginning any self-care program. Images used for this article do not depict any members of the Silver&Fit Program.


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This article was written by Sharon Odegaard, edited by Gail Olson, and clinically reviewed by Elizabeth Thompson, MPH, RD. 


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