Happiness is a healthy dose of optimism

Happiness is a healthy dose of optimism

Looking on the bright side of life could be one of the keys to living a long and happy existence, writes Marty Wilson.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote ''there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so''.

Being someone who is absurdly optimistic, to the point of being what they call a ''reverse paranoid'' (I think the whole world is out to help me), I've been following research into optimism for years.

The Bard might not have been thinking of famine or war but, 400 years later, a mountain of scientific research backs up the Prince of Denmark's point: that the stories we tell ourselves about events in our lives affect our health and even our longevity.

The subject has been looked into often through the years. In 2009, previous studies were reviewed by the American National Institute of Health to examine the link between physical health and dispositional optimism – which was defined as the expectation that good things will happen.

''This found optimism was positively correlated with a whole range of desirable health outcomes, including better immune function, fewer cardiovascular problems and even a lowering of pain-related complaints,'' says Dr Timothy Sharp, one of Australia's leading experts in positive psychology and the founder of The Happiness Institute.

These findings are backed up by another study, published this year, by the International Association of Applied Psychology. It found … ''high subjective well-being was directly linked to longer and healthier life'', Sharp says.

''After removing the effect of variables such as socio-economic factors, it was discovered optimistic, happier people get sick less often, recover more quickly and live longer.''

What are you?

You may believe you are an optimist. Your friends might even agree and tell you that you are a sunny person. But scientists working in the new field of positive psychology have a way of working out your default outlook on life based on more than a gut feeling…

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