Having an optimistic outlook seems to come naturally to some people while being quite difficult for others to achieve. Research has shown that people with positive psychological well-being (PPWB) tend to have fewer physical and mental health problems than those with negative well-being. In particular, studies have focused on how well-being affects issues such as anger, depression, anxiety, substance use, and trauma and has indicated that negative affect and outlook can exacerbate symptoms of these conditions. Additionally, research has provided evidence of a clear link between negative well-being, stress, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). But until now, few studies have focused on the effects of PPWB. To explore this dynamic, Julia K. Boehm of the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health recently conducted a review of existing research to expose the specific psychological and physical benefits of PPWB.
Boehm looked at PPWB that was related to life purpose and also happiness and found that the strongest indicator of cardiovascular health was optimism. She discovered that the existing research showed that individuals with PPWB tended to engage in healthier behaviors, such as adhering to proper diet and participating in regular exercise, than those with low well-being and were therefore at lower risk for CVD. Although the research demonstrated a link between PPWB and healthy behaviors, Boehm says there is not enough evidence to determine if this relationship is bidirectional. The results also revealed that moderate drinkers had higher levels of PPWB while those with high levels of alcohol consumption or complete abstinence had low PPWB. Other negative behaviors, such as smoking, were reduced in the individuals with high PPWB and elevated in those with low PPWB. Boehm believes the results of this analysis shed light on the relationship between PPWB and physical health but do not fully answer the question of whether PPWB leads to healthy behaviors and better overall health. Boehm added, “Perhaps one of the most striking findings in this review is just how few studies have addressed issues related to the direction of the association between PPWB and health behaviors.”
Boehm, J. K., Kubzansky, L. D. (2012). The heart’s content: The association between positive psychological well-being and cardiovascular health. Psychological Bulletin 138.4: 655-691.
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