Optimism doesn’t influence how older men deal with negative situations, but it can help avoid everyday stresses, says research.
A growing number of scientific studies have found a sunny outlook has benefits beyond enhancing our mood. For example, more optimistic people tend to live longer and experience better health than those with a more pessimistic outlook; however, researchers don’t know why.
Lewina Lee, a clinical psychologist at the VA Boston Healthcare System and assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University, speculated that an optimistic outlook buffered against daily stresses and strains. Lee suspected that optimistic people are able to regulate their emotions better than pessimists because they sidestep stressful situations and are less reactive to everyday hassles.
“This study tests one possible explanation, assessing if more optimistic people handle daily stress more constructively and therefore enjoy better emotional well-being,” said Lee in a press release.
Lee evaluated data from 233 men enrolled on the Veterans affairs normative ageing study to test her theory. The men joined the study during the 1960s, aged around 21. In the 1990s, the men were assessed to determine their level of optimism.
Twenty years later (between 2002 and 2010), the men completed an 8-day diary, 3-times over eight years, to assess their stress levels. Examples of daily stressors included arguments, potential arguments, work-related stress, home stress or health stress. In addition, the men were asked to report both negative and positive moods, for example, irritability, distress, excitement or enthusiasm and the extent they experienced the mood on a scale of (slightly) 0-4 (extremely).
Contrary to Lee’s expectations, the results showed no difference between how optimists and pessimists react and recover from day-to-day stresses. However, the more optimistic men experienced fewer negative but more positive moods (beyond simply not feeling negative) and reported fewer daily stresses than pessimistic men.
Lee stated in a press release:
While studies have increasingly supported the idea of optimism as a resource that may promote good health and longevity, we know very little about the underlying mechanisms. “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.”
Reference: Lewina O Lee, PhD, Francine Grodstein, ScD, Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, PhD, Peter James, ScD, Sakurako S Okuzono, MPH, Hayami K Koga, MD, Joel Schwartz, PhD, Avron Spiro, III, PhD, Daniel K Mroczek, PhD, Laura D Kubzansky, PhD, Optimism, Daily Stressors, and Emotional Well-Being Over Two Decades in a Cohort of Aging Men, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 2022;, gbac025, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbac0
The research was published in Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.