Optimism leads to a hardiness that prolongs health. The Universities of Helsinki and Turku along with the University College of London did a large observational study assessing the protective effects of an optimistic outlook on health. They found that individuals who scored high on optimism questionnaires reported fewer sick days after a major life event (severe illness or death of a spouse or family member) and recovered more quickly than those who scored low on optimism. In other words, they found that optimism can assist in coping with major negative life events more successfully.
Optimists seem to engage in healthier habits when compared to pessimists. A Finnish study involving 31-year-old individuals showed that men and women who scored in the highest quartile for optimism ate salads, vegetables, berries, and fruits more often than those who were in the lowest quartile. Pessimistic thinkers also ate less fiber and consumed more alcohol. In a study of care givers, a high level of pessimism signaled an increased risk for poor health. Other studies have revealed that optimistic individuals reported a higher quality of life, engaged in more active coping, and adopted more health-promoting behaviors than individuals who scored low in optimism or were pessimistic.
However, unrealistic optimism that leads a person to underestimate real or potential medical problems and not take appropriate actions proves detrimental to one’s health.