Having an optimistic spouse appears to have positive effects on a partner’s health—even more than a person’s own positive outlook.
Social support may partly explain why, say researchers.
Optimists are more likely to seek social support when facing difficult situations and have a larger network of friends who provide that support.
“A growing body of research shows that the people in our social networks can have a profound influence on our health and well-being,” says Eric Kim, a doctoral student in the University of Michigan’s psychology department. “This is the first study to show that someone’s else optimism could be impacting your own health.”
In close relationships, optimism predicts enhanced satisfaction and better cooperative problem-solving.
“So practically speaking, I can imagine an optimistic spouse encouraging his or her partner to go to the gym or eat a healthier meal because the spouse genuinely believes the behavior will make a difference in health,” Kim says.
“Identifying factors that protect against declining health is important for the increasing number of older adults who face the dual threat of declining health and rising health care costs.”
Kim and colleagues used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a national study of American adults over age 50. The study’s 3,940 adults (1,970 heterosexual couples) were tracked for four years and reported on their physical functioning (mobility and motor skills), health, and number of chronic illnesses. The findings appear in the current issue of Journal of Psychosomatic Research.
*Image of “happy couple” via Shutterstock