06/13/05 - optimism and health

In today's excerpt - Martin Seligman, professor and chairman of the University of Pennsylvania psychology department and past president of the American Psychological Association whose studies have focused on research that demostrates the profound effect of optimism on academic success, business success, health and other factors, comments on very long-term research on 200 Harvard graduates showing that optimism, as opposed to other factors such as conventional health habits, is the primary determinate of long-term health:

"Some of the men, while in college, handled failure with 'mature defenses'—humor, altruism, sublimation. Others never did ... Remarkably, those men who had mature defenses in their early twenties went on to much more successful and healthy lives. By age sixty, none of the men who had deployed mature defenses at twenty were in poor health by sixty.

"... We 'CAVE'd' all the essays and compiled an explanatory-style portrait of each of the men at the end of their youth. [C.A.V.E. being a research technique to determine level of optimism or pessimism based on an individual's explanation of failure or setbacks.]

"... What we saw was that health at age sixty was strongly related to optimism at age twenty-five. The pessimistic men had started to come down with the diseases of middle age earlier and more severely than the optimistic men, and the differences in health by age forty-five were already large. ...What's more, when we fed several other factors ... into the equation, optimism still stood as the primary determinate of health. ..."


Martin Seligman


Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life


Vintage Books


Copyright 1990 by Martin E. P. Seligman


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