Encouraging Optimism in Patients for Better Outcomes

Apr 15, 2021 at 02:57 pm by pj

Power of positive thinking. Looking on the bright side. Find the silver lining.



Many of us have heard these quotes as platitudes when we’ve been faced with real challenges in our lives. Today we know they are more than that, today we know that Optimistic people live longer and have a better quality of life! They are happier, healthier, and deal with health and environmental challenges better, improving their overall health outcomes.  Researchers have long identified risk factors for disease states and death but have only just begun to explore the emotional and psychological protective factors in aging.  According to a 2018 Boston University School of Medicine study, women and men who are optimistic have an 11-15 percent longer lifespan and have 50-70 percent greater odds of reaching 85 years old.  These people are believed to be more resilient and better able to regulate stressors, and to bounce back better from adversity. They also tend to be healthier, engage more consistently with self-care such as exercise and ultimately believe they can affect their own well-being.

Winston Churchill once said, "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

Optimism is hopefulness and confidence that the world is a good place and that things will turn out ok.  It is not wishful or fantasy thinking, but rather a way of looking at what life gives you and believing you have some responsibility for its outcomes.  Optimists know that you can in fact impact the outcome of life events.  The idea that “it isn’t what happens to you but how you respond to what happens to you” is the ultimate Optimist mantra, and research backs this up. According to the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the University of Miami Healthy System (and many others) the benefits of being an optimist include the following:


  • Protects against mortality risk.
  • Promotes resilient aging, it’s the best anti-aging drug out there.
  • Promotes a longer life span with a 30 percent chance of living to 85 years and older.
  • Improves one’s ability to beat cancer, specifically with many studies in the area of breast cancer.
  • Creates overall better health.
  • Creates more enjoyment of love in life, with more and varied loving friendships and family relationships.
  • Improves career and family stress management.
  • Promotes the experiences of less stress overall in all aspects of life.


It is important to know that most people are pessimistic to some degree.  In fact, our brains are wired to look out for things that may put us in danger, creating a pattern of pessimistic perceptions that have kept us safe for thousands of years.  However, being too good at pessimism can negatively impact your wellbeing because it causes you to only see the negative options in your life.  The good news is that only about 25 percent of our wiring accounts for our attitudes of optimism or pessimism, and the rest is made up of our environment, social support and learned behaviors.  Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, believes optimism like many other skills can be learned.  Dr. Seligman found that people who learned optimism techniques were far less likely to develop depression, anxiety and also enjoyed improved overall health.  As healthcare professionals, you can greatly impact your patients’ health and wellness by integrating language and techniques in their care that facilitate the development of optimism with your patients.


You CAN build Optimism:

  • Decide to be Optimistic-In every situation remind yourself that you can decide how you will act and react. And with that knowledge you can choose happiness.
  • Thought Stopping Techniques-When you feel the anxiety in the pit of your stomach or hear the negative thoughts ruminating in your head, learn to stop your thoughts in that instant. Sing out loud, hum or whistle. This helps break the state of ruminations or anxiety so you can redirect your thoughts to something positive.  Practice this and eventually you will control your thoughts. 
  • Replacement Thoughts-Find a happy memory, keep a happiness list or a list of gratitude’s, or plan a vacation, find something that you can commit to thinking about when you are feeling anxious or down. One or two minutes of thinking about this will shift your mood. 
  • Happiness List/Gratitude List -Many people wait until they have lost weight, or have the perfect job, or perfect spouse, or whatever they are want, to be happy. Because of this, they miss out on all the things that make life worth living.  Make a list of all the little things that are good in your life. The automatic toothbrush that feels like a trip to the dentist, or flying a kite, or brisket with carnalized onions, or anything that brings joy.  Keep the list handy and read it when you are feeling out of sort.  You can also write gratitude’s on this list. 
  • Avoid Negativity-Limit yourself from being around people or things that bring you down. The complainers, those that are always sick, who only see what is wrong, or who put others down will only make you feel worse and will make it hard to be optimistic.
  • Change the subject-When someone is stuck on the negative offer up something positive to talk about, redirect the conversation, or be honest and ask people to participate with you in changing your attitude. For example, say “Today let’s try this, we each have 5 minutes to talk about our ailments and then we are going to focus on the good things and see how we feel.”
  • Give compliments-Saying something positive to another raises their vibration, it makes them feel good, and in return will make you feel good. This can be a “thank you” or an appreciation of a person, place or thing, but stating what it is will always help.


Help your patients do better by encouraging optimism.  If you are concerned about being pessimistic yourself, want to learn skills to be more optimistic, or want to learn techniques to help others, reach out to a counselor to help support and guide you today.

April Boykin is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and cofounder of Counseling Resource Services (CRS). Established in 2013, CRS is a community-based in-home integrated behavioral health agency serving the aged and disabled population in Central Florida. As a mental health counselor, she has provided individual, family and caregiver counseling to children, teens and adults.   She can be reached at april@counselingresourceservices.com