Optimism and Survival

I’ve been thinking about one’s overall “general” attitude since a reader submitted the “Youth” poem by Ullman. I then remembered reading a study, years (and years!) ago which was tracking cancer survival rates over time for people with positive vs. negative attitudes, which showed a statistically significant survival rate for those people with positive attitudes!

I did a quick search for some recent studies, and in just a few minutes found some of the following links, the first a Mayo clinic long-term study, which found higher mortality in pessimists than in optimists (the link is to a .pdf).

While the connection between mind and body has been debated for a long time (as the Mayo clinic study points out, since the time of Plato, and perhaps before), and certainly I also found some studies that seemed to show no correlation with attitude and recovery rates, two things stand out to me:

  1. While the science isn’t unanimous yet about whether a positive attitude increases recovery rates by statistically significant, there is still a large amount of studies that *do* show that a positive attitude does improve survival rates. On the flip side, there are no studies I found that indicate a positive attitude in an way *decrease* recovery & survival.
  2. Given the above, it seems to me that a positive, optimistic attitude can only help!

I’ll maintain that when we are are Playing, and having fun, we’re promoting a positive attitude – we’re laughing, we’re joking, we’re smiling. We’re approaching problems with a playful attitude – rather than letting the seriousness of a situation drag our mood down, we’re maintaining that optimistic spirit, which can only help to improve the outcomes of any endeavor we undertake!

The studies I mentioned above are here:

  • A fairly comprehensive study from the Mayo clinic (with 19,781 person-years of observation) showing a 19% higher mortality rate for pessimists over optimists:


  • A recent (2010) study showing lung-cancer survival being longer with positive attitudes over those with negative attitudes:


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3 Responses to Optimism and Survival

  1. Kundabuffer says:

    To satisfy the materialists: one of the explanations I’ve heard for a potentially causal role of postivity boosted survival relates to neuropeptide cascades that boost immune systems and reduce stress hormone activity. There’s some research to show modulation of the neuropeptide activity in both anticipation and experience of laughter (one study here: http://bit.ly/f8V8t8).

    Also, even in situations where positive thinking doesn’t correlate to better survival rates, it very closely tracks with quality of life during even during the terminal stage. Go down laughing or go down crying, as they say.

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