Optimists report fewer physical and mental health conditions than pessimists in the general Norwegian population
More details
Hide details
Submission date: 2018-09-27
Final revision date: 2018-11-22
Acceptance date: 2018-11-22
Online publication date: 2019-01-03
Publication date: 2019-01-03
Health Psychology Report 2019;7(1):9-18
Several studies have found that optimism is associated with better health. However, all those studies have investigated the subject in a specific context: gender, age group, diagnosis, situation, or population segment. Given the association found between optimism and physical health, mental health and well-being in previous studies, one would expect optimistic individuals in the general population to report fewer physical and mental health conditions during their lifetimes than pessimists. The aim of the present study was to test this hypothesis.

Participants and procedure:
A random sample of 1792 people participated in a survey on a broad variety of mental and physical health conditions. In addition they filled out the Life Orientation Test–Revised (LOT-R). Optimism was defined as a score of ≥ 17 on the LOT-R.

Optimists reported a lower prevalence of a wide range of mental and physical health conditions compared with pessimists. The associations between optimism and better health conditions persisted for the majority of health conditions investigated, even after adjustment for age, gender and education. Overall, pessimists had a greater estimated risk of disease in general. In addition 11.30% of the pessimists reported having had five or more different diseases during their lifetimes, compared with 3.90% of the optimists.

Our results add to growing evidence that optimism plays an important role in health and support the view that fostering optimism is an appropriate strategy for promoting health.

Allison, P. J., Guichard, C., & Gilain, L. (2000). A prospective investigation of dispositional optimism as a predictor of health-related quality of life in head and neck cancer patients. Quality of Life Research, 9, 951–960.
Avvenuti, G., Baiardini, I., & Giardini, A. (2016). Optimism’s explicative role for chronic diseases. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 295. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00295.
Bailey, T. C., Eng, W., Frisch M. B., & Snyder, C. R. (2007). Hope and optimism as related to life satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 168–175.
Boehm, J. K., Chen, Y., Koga, H., Mathur, M. B., Vie, L. L., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2018). Is optimism associated with healthier cardiovascular-related behavior? Meta-analyses of 3 health behaviors. Circulation Research, 122, 1119–1134. doi: 10.1161/circresaha.117.310828.
Boehm, J. K., Peterson, C., Kivimaki, M., & Kubzansky, L. (2011). A prospective study of positive psychological well-being and coronary heart disease. Health Psychology, 30, 259-267. doi: 10.1037/a0023124.
Boehm, J. K., Williams, D. R., Rimm, E. B., Ryff, C., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2013). Relation between optimism and lipids in midlife. American Journal of Cardiology, 111, 1425–1431. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2013.01.292.
Brissette, I., Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (2002). The role of optimism in social network development, coping, and psychological adjustment during a life transition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 102–111.
Bryan, C. J., Ray-Sannerud, B. N., Morrow, C. E., & Etienne N. (2013). Optimism reduces suicidal ideation and weakens the effect of hopelessness among military personnel. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 37, 996-1003.
Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2014). Dispositional optimism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18, 293–299.
Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2010). Optimism. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 879–889. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.006.
Cauley, J. A., Smagula, S. F., Hovey, K. M., Wactawski-Wende, J., Andrews, C. A., Crandall, C. J., LeBoff, M. S., Li, W., Coday, M., Sattari, M., & Tindle, H. A. (2017). Optimism, cynical hostility, falls, and fractures: The Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHI-OS). Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 32, 221–229. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.2984.
Chang, E. C. (2001). Cultural influences on optimism and pessimism: Differences in Western and Eastern construals of the self. In E. C. Chang (Ed.), Optimism and pessimism: Implication for theory, research, and practice (pp. 257-280). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Chang, E. (2009). An examination of optimism, pessimism, and performance perfectionism as predictors of positive psychological functioning in middle-aged adults: Does holding high standards of perfomance matter beyond generalized outcome expectancies? Cognitive Theraphy and Research, 33, 334–344.
Chang, E. C., Yu, E. A., Lee, J. Y., Hirsch, J. K., Kupfermann, Y., & Kahle E. R. (2013). An examination of optimism/pessimism and suicide risk in primary care patients: Does belief in a changeable future make a difference? Cognitive Therapy and Research, 37, 796–804.
Chida, Y., & Hamer, M. (2008). Chronic psychological factors and acute physiological responses to laboratory-induced stress in healthy populations: a quantitative review of 30 years of investigation. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 829–885.
Cooper, C. L., & Payne, R. (1988). Causes, coping and consequences of stress at work. England: Wiley, Chister.
Daukantaite D., & Zukauskiene, R. (2012). Optimism and subjective well-being: Affectivity plays a secondary role in the relationship between optimism and global life satisfaction in the middle-aged women. Longitudinal and cross-cultural findings. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 1–16.
Gallagher, M. W., Lopez, S. J., & Pressman, S. D. (2013). Optimism is universal: exploring the presence and benefits of optimism in a representative sample of the world. Journal of Personality, 81, 429–440. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12026.
Giltay, E. J., Geleijnse, J. M., Zitman, F. G., Hoekstra, T., & Schouten, E. G. (2004). Dispositional optimism and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in a prospective cohort of elderly dutch men and women. Archives of General Psychiatry, 61, 1126–1135. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.61.11.1126.
Gison, A., Dall’Armi, V., Donati, V., Rizza, F., & Giaquinto, S. (2014). Dispositional optimism, depression, disability and quality of life in Parkinson’s disease. Functional Neurology, 29, 113–119.
Hampson, S. E., & Friedman, H. S. (2008). Personality and health: A lifespan perspective. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 770–794). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Hart, S. L., Vella, L., & Mohr, D. C. (2008). Relationships among depressive symptoms, benefit-finding, optimism, and positive affect in multiple sclerosis patients after psychotherapy for depression. Health Psychology, 27, 230–238. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.2.230.
Hirsch, J. K., & Conner, K. R. (2006). Dispositional and explanatory style optimism as potential moderators of the relationship between hopelessness and suicidal ideation. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 36, 661–669. doi: 10.1521/suli.2006.36.6.661.
Holbrook, A. L., Krosnick, J. A., & Pfent, A. (2008). The causes and consequences of response rates in surveys by the news media and government contractor survey research firms. In J. M. Lepkowski, C. Tucker, J. M. Brick, E. D. de Leeuw, L. Japec, P. J. Lavrakas, M. W. Link, & R. L. Sangster (Eds.), Advances in Telephone Survey Methodology (pp. 499–528.). New York: Wiley.
Huffman, J. C., Boehm, J. K., Beach, S. R., Beale, E. E., DuBois, C. M., & Healy, B. C. (2016). Relationship of optimism and suicidal ideation in three groups of patients at varying levels of suicide risk. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 77, 76–84. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.02.020.
Iacobucci, D., Posavac, S. S., Kardes, F. R., Schneider, M. J., & Popovich, D. L. (2015). The median split. Robust, refined, and revived. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25, 690–704.
IBM Corporation. (2016). SPSS for Windows, version 24. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp.
Ji, J. I., Holmes, E. A., & Blackwell, S. E. (2017). Seeing light at the end of the tunnel: Positive prospective mental imagery and optimism in depression. Psychiatry Research, 247, 155–162.
Kawachi, I., & Berkman, L. F. (2001). Social ties and mental health. Journal of Urban Health, 78, 458–467. doi: 10.1093/jurban/78.3.458.
Kim, E. S., Hagan, K. A., Grodstein, F., DeMeo, D. L., De Vivo, I., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2017). Optimism and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185, 21–29.
Kim, E. S., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2011). Dispositional optimism protects older adults from stroke: The health and retirement study. Stroke, 42, 2855–2859. doi: 10.1161/strokeaha.111.613448.
Kim, E. S., Smith, J., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2014). Prospective study of the association between dispositional optimism and incident heart failure. Circulation: Heart Failure, 7, 394–400. doi: 10.1161/circheartfailure.113.000644.
Kung, S., Rummans, T. A., Colligan, R. C., Clark, M. M., Sloan, J. A., Novotny, P. J., & Huntington, J. L. (2006). Association of optimism-pessimism with quality of life in patients with head and neck and thyroid cancers. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 81, 1545–1552. doi: 10.4065/81.12.1545.
Lorant, V., Deliege, D., Eaton, W., Robert, A., Philippot, P., & Ansseau, M. (2003). Socioeconomic inequalities in depression: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology, 157, 98–112.
Matthews, K. A., Raikkonen, K., Sutton-Tyrrell, K., & Kuller, L. H. (2004). Optimistic attitudes protect against progression of carotid atherosclerosis in healthy middle-aged women. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66, 640–644. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000139999.99756.a5.
Meevissen, Y. M., Peters, M. L., & Alberts, H. J. (2011). Become more optimistic be imagining a best possible self: effect of a two week intervention. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 3, 371–378.
Murphy, S. E., O’Donoghue, C., Drazich, E. H., Blacjwell, S. E., Nobre, C., & Holmes, E. A. (2015). Imagining a brighetr future: the effect of positive imagery training on mood, prospective mental imagery and emotional bias in older adults. Psychiatry Research, 230, 36–43.
Nabi, H., Koskenvuo, M., Singh-Manoux, A., Korkeila, J., Suominen, S., Korkeila, K., & Kivimaki, M. (2010). Low pessimism protects against stroke: The Health and Social Support (HeSSup) prospective cohort study. Stroke, 41, 187–190. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.109.565440.
Nes, L. S., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2006). Dispositional optimism and coping: a meta-analytic review. Peronality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 235–251. doi: 10.1207/s15327957pspr1003_3.
Nolen-Hoecksema, S. (2000). Growth and resilience bereaved people. In J. Gillham (Ed.), The science of optimism and hope. (pp. 107–127). Philadelpia: Templeton Foundation.
Norem, J. K. (2008). Defensive pessimism as a positive self-critical tool. In E. C. Chang (Ed.), Self-criticism and self-ehancement: Theory, research, and clinical implication (pp. 89-104). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Norem, J. L., & Chang, E. C. (2002). The positive psychology of negative thinking. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 993–1001.
O’Keefe, V. M., & Wingate, L. R. (2013). The role of hope and optimism in suicide risk for American Indians/Alaska Natives. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 43, 621–633. doi: 10.1111/sltb.12044.
Pais-Ribeiro, J., da Silva, A. M., Meneses, R. F., & Falco, C. (2007). Relationship between optimism, disease variables, and health perception and quality of life in individuals with epilepsy. Epilepsy and Behavior, 11, 33–38. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2007.04.010.
Peters, M. L, Flink, I. K, Boersma, K., & Linton, S. J. (2010). Manipulating optimism: can imagining a best possible self be used to increased positive future expectancies? Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 204–211.
Plomin, R., Scheier, M. F., Bergeman, C. S., Pedersen, N. L., Nesselroade, J. R., & McClearn, G. E. (1992). Optimism, pessimism, and mental health: A twin/adoption analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 13, 921–930.
Puig-Perez, S., Villada, C., Pulopulos, M. M., Almela, M., Hidalgo, V., & Salvador, A. (2015). Optimism and pessimism are related to different components of the stress response in healthy older people. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 98, 213–221. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2015.09.002.
Raikkonen, K., Matthews, K. A., Flory, J. D., Owens, J. F., & Gump, B. B. (1999). Effects of optimism, pessimism, and trait anxiety on ambulatory blood pressure and mood during everyday life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 104–113.
Rasmussen, H. N., Scheier, M. F., & Greenhouse, J. B. (2009). Optimism and physical health: A meta-analytic review. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 37, 239–256. doi: 10.1007/s12160-009-9111-x.
Roy, B., Diez-Roux, A. V., Seeman, T., Ranjit, N., Shea, S., & Cushman, M. (2010). Association of optimism and pessimism with inflammation and hemostasis in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Psychosomatic Medicine, 72, 134–140. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181cb981b.
Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (2007). What to do about positive and negative items in studies of psychological well-being and ill-being? Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 76, 126–129.
Salovey, P., Rothman, A. J., Detweiler, J. B., & Steward, W. T. (2000). Emotional states and physical health. American Psychologist, 55, 110–121.
Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1985). Optimism, coping, and health: assessment and implications of generalized outcome expectancies. Health Psychology, 4, 219–247.
Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., & Bridges, M. W. (1994). Distinguishing optimism from neuroticism (and trait anxiety, self-mastery and self-esteem), a reevaluation of the Life Orientation Test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 1063–1078.
Schou-Bredal, I., & Ekeberg, Ø. (2016). The stability of dispositional optimism in relation to receiving or not receiving a cancer diagnosis. Psychology, 7, 806–814.
Schou-Bredal, I., Heir, T., Skogstad, L., Bonsaksen, T., Lerdal, A., Grimholt, T., & Ekeberg, Ø. (2017). Population-based norms of the Life Orientation Test-Revised (LOT-R). International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 17, 216–224. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijch....
Schou, I., Ekeberg, Ø., Ruland, C. M., Sandvik, L., & Karesen, R. (2004). Pessimism as a predictor of emotional morbidity one year following breast cancer surgery. Psychooncology, 13, 309–320. doi: 10.1002/pon.747.
Schou, I., Ekeberg, Ø., Sandvik, L., Hjermstad, M. J., & Ruland, C. M. (2005). Multiple predictors of health-related quality of life in early stage breast cancer. Data from a year follow-up study compared with the general population. Quality of Life Research, 14, 1813–1823. doi: 10.1007/s11136-005-4344-z.
Schou, I., Ekeberg, Ø., Sandvik, L., & Ruland, C. M. (2005). Stability in optimism-pessimism in relation to bad news: a study of women with breast cancer. Journal of Personality Assessment, 84, 148–154. doi: 10.1207/s15327752jpa8402_04.
Segerstrom, S. C. (2007). Optimism and resources: Effects on each other and on health over 10 years. Journal of Research Personality, 41, 772–786. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2006.09.004.
Segerstrom, S. C., Evans, D. R., & Eisenlogr-Moul, T. A. (2011). Optimism and pessimism dimensjons in the Life Orientation Test-Revised: method and meaning. Journal of Research Personality, 45, 126–129.
Segovia, F., Moore, J. L., Linnville, S. E., & Hoyt, R. E. (2015). Optimism predicts positive health in repatriated prisoners of war. Psychological Trauma, 7, 222–228. doi: 10.1037/a0037902.
Shnek, Z. M., Irvine, J., Stewart, D., & Abbey, S. (2001). Psychological factors and depressive symptoms in ischemic heart disease. Health Psychology, 20, 141–145.
Smagula, S. F., Faulkner, K., Scheier, M. F., Tindle, H. A., & Cauley, J. A. (2016). Testing the independence of multiple personality factors in relation to health among community-dwelling older men. Journal of Aging Health, 28, 571–586. doi: 10.1177/0898264315597649.
Steptoe, A., Wright, C., Kunz-Ebrecht, S. R., & Iliffe, S. (2006). Dispositional optimism and health behaviour in community-dwelling older people: associations with healthy ageing. Britsh Journal of Health Psychology, 11, 71–84. doi: 10.1348/135910705x42850.
Tindle, H. A., Davis, E., & Kuller, L. (2010). Attitudes and cardiovascular disease. Maturitas, 67, 108–113. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2010.04.020.
Tindle, H. A., Chang, Y. F., Kuller, L. H., Manson, J. E., Robinson, J. G., Rosal, M. C., & Matthews, K. A. (2009). Optimism, cynical hostility, and incident coronary heart disease and mortality in the Women’s Health Initiative. Circulation, 120, 656–662. doi: 10.1161/circulationaha.108.827642.
Tindle, H. A., Duncan, M. S., Liu, S., Kuller, L. H., Fugate Woods, N., Rapp, S. R., Kroenke, C. H, Coday, M., Loucks, E. B., Lamonte, M. J., Progovac, A. M., Salmoirago-Blotcher, E., Walitt, B. T., Yuo, N. Y., & Freiberg, M. S. (2017). Optimism, pessimism, cynical hostility, and biomarkers of metabolic function in the Women’s Health Initiative. Journal of Diabetes, 10, 512–523. doi: 10.1111/1753-0407.12584.
Vacek, K. R., Coyle L. D., & Vera E. M. (2010). Stress, self-esteem, hope, optimism and well-being in urban ethnic minority adolescents. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 38, 99–111.
Copyright: © Institute of Psychology, University of Gdansk This is an Open Access journal, all articles are distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.
Journals System - logo
Scroll to top