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Pollyanna Was Right: The Benefits of Optimism

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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21 Responses to Pollyanna Was Right: The Benefits of Optimism

  1. Dianne Lloyd July 10, 2012 at 7:02 am #

    I love the thought….as usual.

    I am in mixed metaphor la-la land:

    Could the world be FULL—half stuff….and half air? (I have met peope who were half air.)

    Would bunnies ever want human ears that could be worn on their heads?

    Do superheros have great relationships…. with money? (The Lone Ranger and silver bullets…comes to mind.)

    I coud go on (my apologies)…like last week I really needed to know what the difference between a boundariy and a bord is….

    But this week…I will choose to “opt” out and be a better person for it.

    Thanks—much better than being “pess”ed off…or on.

    • Z Egloff July 10, 2012 at 10:29 am #

      Hi Dianne,

      I appreciate your deep, profound, and oh-so-playful questions!

      I’m stuck on the bunnies with human ears. :)

      I think that the superheros and money could be a whole post! 😉

      Come back again anytime!!

      XOZ

  2. Melissa July 10, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    Goodness, I LOVE this POST!

    I am very grateful that one (of so many) of the wonderful qualities I inherited, or opted to take on, from my mommy was an amazing optimism. She could be in the middle of Hell and decide that “…at least the air conditioning bill will go down!” She is amazing – and adorable – and thriving at 81! Just saying….

    So happy about that being in my make-up…and I continue to get better at it as I consciously practice too….

    Thanks, ZZ
    Rockin it yet again with the blog posts…. :-)

    • Z Egloff July 10, 2012 at 10:31 am #

      Hi Melissa,

      Hello, my love! I’m glad you inherited the sunny trait from your mom. It serves me as well!!

      I hadn’t hear the line about Hell and the air conditioning bill before – nice!

      Have a sunny day – I know you will!

      XOZ

      • Melissa July 10, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

        Ah – she’s never said it – but then I haven’t been in hell with her – and I bet she WOULD say it if she were to go there – but clearly she’s not set on that route….her perky lil self has made WAY too many people happy for THAT! :-)

        Just sayin….

  3. Connie Phillippe July 10, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    Thanks Z I have always said I am the original Pollyanna b4 she was even born. Maybe I should sue for “residuals”? The attitude really does work and I am grateful for it. Great Blog!

    • Z Egloff July 10, 2012 at 10:32 am #

      Hi Connie,

      I know from experience that you are the original Pollyanna. And I’m glad you apply your optimistic attitude toward my blog! 😉

      XOZ

  4. Karen July 10, 2012 at 8:43 am #

    Another terrific post, Z.

    I’m not an optimist by nature or family example (my mom always said she didn’t hate the whole wide world — just the people in it!), but as I’ve turned myself into a Pollyanna over the years, life has gotten better and better and better yet. This stuff works!

    • Z Egloff July 10, 2012 at 10:34 am #

      Hi Karen,

      I would say the same thing about me – I was not naturally an optimist. It’s something that I’ve had to learn and cultivate over the years. I would also say that every bit of the energy that I’ve put into being more optimistic has paid off a hundred times over. Yes, this stuff totally works!!!

      XOZ

  5. Simone July 10, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    Wow, you are so on. From now on I am going to say “What would Pollyanna do?” instead of “What would Tony Soprano do?” This is a complete paradigm switch and makes life so much better. I was always very optimistic as a teacher, and I believe this is what made me such a good teacher. I truly believed every kid in my classroom would succeed. Now I realize I can do this with my daily living. Wow! Everything is GOOD.

    • Z Egloff July 10, 2012 at 10:36 am #

      Hi Simone,

      I love it – switching from the Tony Soprano channel to the Pollyanna channel. I’m thinking that your life is about to get even more amazing. I also love the idea of applying those views of faith and trust in your students to yourself – what a beautiful concept. Everything really is GOOD! :)

      XOZ

  6. Mary July 10, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    When I was at UW majoring in Drama, my friends and I did our final scenes one quarter in a campus theatre and both of our Drama instructors were to grade us. One of them, an older British actress, fell asleep during our scenes!

    In the car afterward my friends were complaining a lot about this. I said, “It was nice of her to come and try to stay awake.” That began a deluge of Pollyanna replies and the nickname was mine.

    Any time afterward when I tried to point out a positive way of considering a situation everyone was irritated with, the nickname re-emerged.

    I used to be embarrassed all the time about my naivete and gullibility (is that a word?). I always hoped I would outgrow it.

    That was then. Now I am a little less gullible, and maybe not so much a Pollyanna. But I’d rather be a naive optimist than a realistic cynic. I’m with Pollyanna.

    • Karen July 10, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

      You worded that beautifully, Mary. I’m with you and Pollyanna!

    • Z Egloff July 11, 2012 at 9:49 am #

      Hi Mary,

      I agree with Karen! What a powerful story.

      It’s interesting how the positive view can be ridiculed so strongly. I would say that it’s too bad that this is so, but that wouldn’t be looking on the positive side. 😉

      I’m impressed that you could find a positive aspect to your drama teacher’s presence. It can take creativity and ingenuity to find the positive view.

      Here’s to the optimists!!!

      XOZ

  7. David Scott July 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    Is it true that optimists are wealthier or are wealthy people just more optimistic? In my opinion, optimism is just as delusional as pessimism and probably just as damaging to society in general.
    Why not try something new? I suggest a venture into realism http://thmngolf.blogspot.com/2009/06/on-free-will-and-determinism_17.html#axzz20LYJLt9V

    • Z Egloff July 12, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      Hi Dave,

      The interesting thing about the pubmed abstract that this post is based on is that it’s a summary of multiple studies on the impact of optimism in a variety of areas. Their conclusions? “Although there are instances in which optimism fails to convey an advantage, and instances in which it may convey a disadvantage, those instances are relatively rare. In sum, the behavioral patterns of optimists appear to provide models of living for others to learn from.” I’m still sticking with Pollyanna. 😉

      XOZ

  8. Marcy August 7, 2012 at 11:33 pm #

    Love, love, LOVE this!!!!!! I am an eternal optimist and so grateful for the gift of seeing the good in all things. People think I’m happy because I have a good life. Actually, it’s the other way around – I have a good life because I’m happy. It’s not that I haven’t experienced painful times in my life – it’s just that I see the perfection in how life unfolds and that the Universe/Spirit is always FOR me!

    I’ve recently learned that one of my gifts is bringing the energy of hope and possibility to the world. It feels so validating because it’s true – I’ve always believed in what’s possible. One of the things I love most about myself is the ability to see the innocence of all things. Which means forgiveness is nearly unnecessary. It’s an honor to be referred to as Pollyanna – proud of it! Yahoo!

    • Z Egloff August 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

      Hi Marcy,

      It’s interesting that Pollyanna got such a bad rap, isn’t it? I think more and more people are now beginning to understand the value of optimism.

      Good for you for being a strong optimist. The world needs more people like you! I like your statement: I have a good life because I’m happy. That’s such a powerful platform to come from, a solid way to live your life. YES!

      XOZ

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