The Monty Python song urged us to do it even in the darkest of times.
Now it appears looking on the bright side of life really could be beneficial to our health. A study of 2,400 patients with angina – a heart problem that causes severe chest pain – found those with a positive outlook were 30 % less likely to require hospital treatment over nearly two years of monitoring.
Scientists are increasingly interested in the impact that attitude and outlook can have on a patient’s health.
For decades medical research has focused on physical symptoms and developing drugs and procedures to deal with them.
But a growing body of evidence suggests that mood, which has largely been ignored by doctors, could have a major impact on a patient’s chance of recovery.
The US researchers, from Duke University in North Carolina and Columbia University in New York, asked the angina patients after one month, six months and 12 months respectively how optimistic they were about the future. Levels of optimism stayed roughly the same at each interview.
A quarter were ‘most optimistic’, about two fifths ‘optimistic’, a fifth ‘neutral’ and a tenth ‘not optimistic’. The researchers found for every degree of optimism, the chances of being taken into hospital within the two-year study period dropped.
Dr Alexander Fanaroff, of Duke University, said: ‘Feeling better about your disease process and ability to re-engage in usual activities may actually make chronic angina easier to deal with. If we can identify patients who are less optimistic, we may be able to positively affect outcomes.’
Other studies published in the last two years have found similar results for cancer, stroke, respiratory disease and infection.
This may be because general mood alters the balance between harmful and beneficial hormones in the body, scientists say.
Being optimistic reduces stress and anxiety hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can place a burden on the heart and raise blood pressure.