The Surprising Health Benefit of Being in a Relationship With an Optimist

Photo: Getty Images / Garage Island Crew
In news I hope my boyfriend doesn't read, it turns out that having an optimistic partner can lead to better health outcomes. New research out of Michigan State University, published in the Journal of Personality, found that being in a relationship with an optimist might actually help to decrease the chances of developing Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

This isn't some Jedi mind trick but rather the probable result of the optimist setting a good example in terms of leading a healthy lifestyle while encouraging their partner to follow suit. "We spend a lot of time with our partners," said William Chopik, co-author of the study, which followed nearly 4,500 heterosexual couples for up to eight years. Behaviors such as healthy weight maintenance and regular exercise are good at staving off cognitive disease and decline, and those with happy, positive partners tend to be better at enacting them.

"There's a sense where optimists lead by example, and their partners follow their lead," Chopik said. "While there's some research on people being jealous of their partner's good qualities or on having bad reactions to someone trying to control you, it is balanced with other research that shows being optimistic is associated with perceiving your relationship in a positive light."

Yes, pessimism is inherited to some degree, but you can skew more optimistic with some effort. According to Deepika Chopra, PsyD, a happiness researcher and founder of Things Are Looking Up—A place for Optimismstarting with a few small actions on the daily can help. She recommends, for example, reframing your tasks for the day as "get to do's" instead of "have to do's," spending time in nature, engaging in small acts of kindness, wiggling around to your favorite tunes, finding some positive peeps with whom to associate, and practicing gratitude.

"There are studies that show people have the power to change their personalities, as long as they engage in things that make them change," Chopik said. "Part of it is wanting to change. There are also intervention programs that suggest you can build up optimism."

Need pro help being less of a bummer? Enroll in UPenn's online positivity course. Plus, here's how to use thought-stopping techniques to cease spiraling

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