Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. While diet and exercise certainly contribute to heart health, a recent study has found a strong link between positive emotions and a lower risk of heart disease. In a nutshell, if you are enthusiastic, contented, and believe the glass is half full, you have a better chance of keeping your heart healthy. Even if you occasionally feel anxious, angry or depressed, this will not affect your overall lower risk of heart disease.
This is good news if you are lucky enough to be born with an optimistic disposition. But what if you are pessimist by nature. Take heart (pun intended!). Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom of the University of Kentucky is the author of Murphy’s Law: How Optimists Get What They Want From Life – and Pessimists Can Too. She argues that optimism and happiness come from your daily choices. In other words, your pessimism is a result of habitually negative thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Change those habits and you’ll be changing your nature.
Here’s one strategy that is particularly effective for changing pessimistic habits — journal writing with a specific focus on problem-solving. Pessimists who write about their thoughts and feelings tend to get mired in their negativity. After all, this is their habitual attitude. But when these same people used a journal entry to explore ways to overcome obstacles and cope with challenges, they experienced beneficial effects, included improved health. When you consistently use a journal to refocus on a positive future, to brainstorm solutions, to continue to pursue goals despite setbacks, you are changing your habitual attitude to a positive one. In fact, even optimists who practiced this type of journal writing experienced health benefits.
Back to the heart study. The authors suggest that one possible reason for the link between positive emotions and heart health is that people who are happier recover more quickly from stressful events and do not spend as much time re-living them. If you want to join the ranks of these heart-healthy folks, don’t use your journal to write about the troubling events of the day. Instead, try this new solution-focused journal writing approach You might just find that you move from a heavy-heart to a soaring one! Let me know if I’m right.