U of U Studies Benefits of Optimism

U of U Studies Benefits of Optimism

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Nadine Wimmer reportingThere's growing scientific evidence behind the old saying, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."

A University of Utah researcher is working to show how optimism can directly influence everything from our health to how well we deal with life's challenges.

Even in the throws of studying for finals, it's easy to spot the optimistic student.

Melissa Jackson/ Senior: "They're going to be rough, but they'll be okay."

Jennifer Jones/ Senior: "I expect the worst, I always do."

Melissa: "Once you're past it, it's over. It's nice to be done."

Jennifer: "I hate finals. For me it's the most stressful time of the year. It's always when I lose hair, I break out."

Okay, maybe it's hard to find something positive out of studying for finals. But new research at the University of Utah shows optimists do have a lot of benefits, far more than just doing well in school.

Lisa Aspinwall/ Associate Professor: "Optimism time and again helps people manage even really difficult situations."

Recovering after surgery, starting a new job or college, maintaining relationships... The list goes on of things optimists seem to handle better, not because they see the world through rose colored glasses. They're more likely to digest and use bad news.

Lisa Aspinwall: "What we find is when the information really is bad, it's optimists who say, 'This really is bad, and I need to deal with it.'"

They've seen the theory play out over and over in the lab. Subjects assigned to read serious medical information. And those who get something to look forward to learn and remember much more.

"Now before you start, I want to give you a little gift for coming here today. I have some candy for you."

Lisa Aspinwall: "These things seem trivial, but they actually have very interesting and very long-lasting effects."

For many of us, optimism seems more a character trait, part of a person's genetics, rather than a strategy for success.

Student: "I never really thought about it."

You should, says the researcher. Because people could improve how they deal with problems, if they learned the same coping strategies of optimists. Most importantly, planning time for something good, amid a new challenge.

Lisa Aspinwall: "When people are stressed they often say, 'I don't have time to do that.' Being happy, it's trivial. But it actually could give them a new perspective on the problems they face."

She's now working to see the implications of this research on patients at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

She also points out, business should take note of this research. Employers could retain workers and even motivate them, by simple changes that give people something to look forward to.

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