The Biology of Optimism
a. Positive psychology is not just the absence of disease but the active presence of positive emotion (joy, gratitude, generosity, hope).
b. Learned helplessness—experiments with animals (translated to humans) demonstrate that when people are placed in a situation of stress that they can’t change, they just accept it and do nothing. They “learn to be helpless” and beome victims. Others who are more resilient fight back and get to a better place.
c. State of Mastery—opposite of helplessness—can it make a difference? Deaths of mice nearly 3 times among those who had learned helplessness vs. those who developed mastery.
d. In experiments, 1/3 of people did not become helpless, despite inescapable noise or shock. Those were the Optimists—things would get better. They ultimately controlled their lives.
e. Cardiovascular disease: Optimists’ CVD was 23% of pessimists; pessimism more common among cancer victims—a risk factor.
f. Why optimists fare better: 1) They’re actively trying, whereas pessimists become victims of learned helplessness; 2) Social support—optimists surround themselves with friends, whereas pessimists often isolate themselves; 3) Biology—pessimists quit sooner and experience more stress. Adrenalin and cortisol both damage the immune system when constantly secreted.
g. Optimism and marriage: When your spouse thinks more highly of you (in kindness, being funny, attractive, smart, etc.) than other close friends do, you’re likely to have a strong marriage. Why? Because it’s likely that you know about your spouse’s “benign illusion” and try to live up to it! Optimism helps a marriage; pessimism hurts it.