The belief that optimism can keep you alive—or at least stave off cancer—gained traction after the release of a study in the Lancet medical journal in 1979. The study followed six dozen recovering breast-cancer patients for five years. Researchers found that those who responded to their situation with a "fighting spirit" fared better—longer survival, fewer signs of residual cancer—than those who had feelings of "helplessness" or "hopelessness." Subsequent studies seemed to corroborate the result, and the benefits of optimism crept into medical doctrine.
Rather pessimistically, a few recent large-scale meta-analyses (reviews of multiple studies) have found a lack of convincing evidence that optimism really extends the lives of cancer patients. Neither positive emotions like fighting spirit nor the absence of negative ones such as helplessness or hopelessness reliably predict a better outcome. "There will always be new claims, and if people look for associations, they can find them," says James Coyne, director of the Behavioral Oncology Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Coyne gives one explanation for the earlier results: "If you're healthy, and if you're living in conditions that make you healthy, then you'll probably be happier."
Despite the lack of definitive data, the belief in the power of positive thinking has become so widespread that it might actually be doing harm. Cancer patients may feel inclined to act upbeat even when they're distraught, hide their despair instead of seeking solace or treatment, or blame themselves if their disease progresses. In fact, this sort of pressure could even complicate future scientific studies of positive thinking, since it's hard to know if a patient truly has a fighting spirit, or if she's just pretending because she knows that's how patients are "supposed" to act.
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This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Popular Science. See more stories from the magazine here.
hmm .. thats kinda depressing.
What about having a purpose? having meaningful, enjoyable work, keep a person alive and happier longer?
this old farmer, on the farm next to us, would always be full of energy and doing work around his place. the dude was OOOld, probably in his 80's and still farming.
He worked on his family farm, which got passed down to his nephew. The Nephew sold the farm and the old farmer was sent to an old folks home.
He died a few months later. a lot of people speculated, that he died because he lost his purpose (farming).
after leaving the farm and being stuck in the home for the aged, he quickly deteriorated.
I wonder if there is research on this. would be interesting
Incase your curious, here is a link to
Joan Vicent Canto Roig/Getty Images.
Now I suspect then, the person in the above picture is paid to make that face. So then do we really know if he is happy?
"as I kept my demeanor in check for my backup parachute also failed just a few moments ago and I think i've reached terminal velocity... i'm thinking positively that i shall land in that nice soft patch of green grass.."