In my last article, I discussed how stress causes illness in otherwise healthy individuals. With this in mind, I’m going to touch on optimism and stress and how an optimistic nature or disposition can enable individuals to cope with stress effectively, thereby directly decreasing their risk of illness.
Below are items from the Life Orientation Test (LOT), a test designed to assess individual differences in generalized optimism vs. pessimism. For each item, answer “true” or “false” before consulting the scoring section at the end of the article. Give it a try right now! When’s the last time you had a true/false test? You’re welcome. :)
- In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.
- It’s easy for me to relax.
- If something can go wrong for me, it will.
- I always look on the bright side of things.
- I’m always optimistic about my future.
- I enjoy my friends a lot.
- It’s important for me to to keep busy.
- I hardly ever expect things to go my way.
- Things never work out the way I want them to.
- I don’t get upset too easily.
- I’m a believer in the idea that “every cloud has a silver lining.”
- I rarely count on good things happening to me.
Michael Scheier and Charles Carver developed this expectational optimism test known as the Life Orientation Test (LOT). In a study with undergraduate students, participants were asked to complete several questionnaires, including the LOT, four weeks before the end of their semester. Their physical symptoms of illness were also recorded at that time. Throughout the four weeks, students who indicated a higher amount of optimism developed fewer physical symptoms of illness.
What about optimism and stress in terms of coping? How does an optimistic as opposed to a pessimistic mentality influence individual coping strategies? It has been discovered that optimism is associated with seeking out social support, emphasizing the positive aspects of the stressful or problematic situation, and coping in a problem-focused manner. In contrast, pessimism is associated with distancing oneself from the event in a manner of denial or avoidance, and often with disengaging from the goal with which the stressor was interfering.
Finally, the relationship of optimism and stress in coronary artery bypass patients suggests that optimism is also an important factor in the effectiveness of surgical recovery. Not only do more optimistic patients utilize problem-focused coping rather than denial and distancing, but they recover faster during hospitalization and return to their normal routines and lifestyles faster after discharge. Additionally, it was found that the more optimistic patients tend to experience a higher quality of life six months post-operation.
It very well may be, then, that optimism directly combats illness and aids recovery by reducing symptoms and improving adjustments to illness by means of effective coping strategies. Sweet.
Looking on the bright side will not only lead to a happier life, but a longer one, too. Don’t worry, be healthy!
Scoring for the LOT:
Items 2, 6, 7, and 10 are filler items. This means that they are not assumed to measure optimism. Items 1, 4, 5, and 11 are optimistically worded items. Items 3, 8, 9, and 12 are reversed prior to scoring, since they are phrased in the pessimistic direction. Total your score and see how optimistic you are.
How’d you do, Johnny/Jenny Raincloud? Have you personally noticed a correlation between optimism and illness or optimism and stress? Comment below!
- Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1985). Optimism, coping, and health: Assessment and implications of generalized outcome expectancies. Health Psychology, 4, 219-247
- Horowitz, M., Adler, N., & Kegeles, S. (1988). A scale for measuring the occurrence of positive states of mind: A preliminary report. Psychosomatic Medicine, 50, 477-483.
- Scheier, M. F., Weintraub, J. K., & Carver, C. S. (1986). Coping with stress: Divergent strategies of optimists and pessimists. Journal of Personality ad Social Psychology, 51, 1257-1264.
- Scheier, M. F., Matthews, K. A., Owens, J., Magovern, G. J., Sr., Lefebvre, R. C., Abbott, R. A., & Carver, C. S. (1989). Dispositional optimism and recovery from coronary artery bypass surgery: The beneficial effects on physical and psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1024-1040.
- Fitzgerald, T. E., Tennen, H., Affleck, G., & Pransky G. S. (1993). The relative importance of dispositional optimism and control appraisals in quality of life after coronary artery bypass surgery. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 16, 25-43.
- Mroczek, D. K., Spiro, A., III, Aldwin, C. M., Ozer, D. J., & Bosse, R. (1993). Construct validation of optimism and pessimism in older men: Findings from the normative aging study. Health Psychology, 12, 406-409.