Remember Pollyanna? The little girl who was so frickin’ positive about everything, she drove everyone crazy?

Sure, she was a fictional character, but she made a strong impression. To this day, the word Pollyanna is synonymous with a naïve, unrealistic attitude toward life.

But what if Pollyanna was right?

You heard me. What if her attitude toward life was actually the most practical and productive approach?

And what if there was research to back her up?

photo: SNRE on flickr

Check it out:

Last quarter, in my studies at Holmes Institute, I took a class called Spirituality and the Brain with Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman. In this class, we were given an assignment to research a topic in the field of mind/body medicine. I chose “The Benefits of Optimism.”

I wasn’t sure what I’d find, but I was . . . optimistic.

As it turned out, I had reason to be hopeful.

Optimism is like a super power.

photo: Lisa Cyr on flickr

I’m not kidding. Take any area – health, relationships, vocation – optimism has been shown to have a positive impact.

Here are just a few of the fun facts I discovered about optimism:

1. Optimists are healthier

photo: Mike Baird on flickr

Multiple studies have shown that optimists fare better than pessimists in the world of physical fitness and longevity.

Optimistic heart patients have a higher quality of life after surgery. Chronic pain patients who exhibit an optimistic attitude have lower levels of pain, anxiety, and depression. Optimists are more likely to take steps to protect their health, while pessimists are more likely to engage in health-damaging behavior.

When I think of optimists and physical health, I think of Jack Lalane.

The guy was a maverick – way ahead of his time in terms of physical fitness and healthy diet. He was also one of the most positive people on the planet. He died last year at the age of 96.

Check out the sporty jumpsuit!

Even if you don’t want to dress like Jack, you would do well to think like him! We could all use a little Jack-itude in our approach to our health.

2. Optimists do better in times of stress

photo:Jo Jakeman on flickr

When the going gets tough, optimists prevail.

Through good times and bad, optimists demonstrate greater levels of well-being than pessimists. Not only do optimists have a better mental attitude, they’ve been shown to exhibit better coping skills. In other words, optimism has a beneficial impact on both our inner and outer realities.

I told you it was a super power.

3. Optimists are wealthier

photo: JMR_Photography on flickr

Of course they are, you say. Who wouldn’t be optimistic surrounded by tons of cash?

But it starts with the attitude.

Here’s the thing: Optimists have been shown to be more energetic and task-focused. In the business world, this translates to all sorts of benefits.

Including cash.

photo: bfishadow on flickr

Optimists also demonstrate greater persistence in pursuing an education, which also translates to multiple benefits.

Including cash.

photo: Eric Hunsaker on flickr

Think about it: What have you got to lose? Besides the cash?

4. Optimists have better relationships

photo: AngelsWings on flickr

That’s right: Optimists are healthier, better under pressure, and have more money. And if that wasn’t enough, they have fabulous relationships.

Though it kinda makes sense. Who makes a better relationship candidate: A broke, sick, nervous person? Or a healthy, wealthy, hearty person?

I’ve been both, and I definitely prefer the optimistic version of me.

And so does everyone else.

photo: Lisl Christie

Bottom line: If you could take a pill to improve your health, your finances and your relationships, would you do it?

In this case, the pill resides in your mind.

I’m not saying it’s easy to change from Grumpy McGrumperton to Happy McHappy, but it’s possible. Even just a slight shift in a positive direction can make a huge difference.

Start a gratitude journal. Find things to appreciate about your job, your friends, your home. Make the choice to see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty.

(Or, as someone pointed out to me recently, see the glass as completely full – half water and half air!)

photo: kalyan02 on flickr

In Pollyanna’s case, she played “The Glad Game.” This involved finding the good aspects of every situation. Like Jack Lalanne, Pollyanna was way ahead of her time. And we would do well to follow her example.

So the next time you find yourself faced with a daunting situation – be it in the area of health, finances, or relationships – ask yourself:

What would Pollyanna do?

Or, more precisely: What would Pollyanna think?

Finding the positive view can change your life for the better!

How has optimism served you? What can you do to bring more Happy into your life?

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