Positive thinking may improve your emotional health: study

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Being optimistic may help to improve a person’s emotional well-being, according to researchers. 

A study from the Boston University School of Medicine published Monday in the Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences followed 233 older men from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study over an eight-year period. 


The participants first completed an optimism questionnaire and reported daily stressors and positive and negative moods on eight consecutive evenings up to three times over an eight-year span from 2002 to 2010. 

Those who were more optimistic were less likely to report negative moods, and optimism was unrelated to emotional reactivity to or recovery from daily stressors.

A woman smiles and holds a cup of coffee.

The optimistic men reported lower negative moods and more positive moods, in addition to fewer stressors. 

“Findings from a sample of older men suggest that optimism may be associated with more favorable emotional well-being in later life through differences in stressor exposure rather than emotional stress response,” the authors wrote. “Optimism may preserve emotional well-being among older adults by engaging emotion regulation strategies that occur relatively early in the emotion-generative process.”


Being more or less optimistic did not make a difference in how older men emotionally reacted to or recovered from stressors like arguments or household chores, but optimism appeared to promote emotional well-being by limiting how often older men experienced stressful situations or changing the way they interpreted situations as stressful.

“This study tests one possible explanation, assessing if more optimistic people handle daily stress more constructively and therefore enjoy better emotional well-being,” Dr. Lewina Lee, corresponding author and clinical psychologist at the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, said in a statement.

“Stress, on the other hand, is known to have a negative impact on our health. By looking at whether optimistic people handle day-to-day stressors differently, our findings add to knowledge about how optimism may promote good health as people age,” she noted.

Study limitations include that the sample was all male and mostly White, that use of emotion regulation strategies was inferred from the pattern of findings, that daily stressors were assessed concurrently and that most participants completed one or two daily diary bursts.