Personality and Health Outcomes: Making Positive Expectations a Reality

Abstract

Trait optimism is associated with better health, but the reason for this association is unclear. The present investigation focused on specific goals and negative emotions as potential pathways through which optimism can lead to better health. College students (n = 336) in the U.S. reported their mental and physical health at the start of an academic term and during finals. Over the course of the term, they reported three daily events and rated the extent to which they were motivated to attain positive outcomes (approach goals) or avoid negative outcomes (avoidance goals). Greater optimism predicted fewer mental and physical health symptoms at the end of the term, controlling for initial symptoms. This association between optimism and symptoms was mediated by the intensity of avoidance goals and negative emotion during the term. These findings suggest that positive expectations do predict better health and this relationship is partially due to the goals people set in their daily lives.

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Acknowledgments

Gratitude is expressed to Linda Levine, Elizabeth Davis and Esther Chang for their comments on earlier drafts. Clarissa Samiley, Katherine Barnes, and Patricia Craig are thanked for assistance with data collection. Support was provided for this study by an American Psychological Association dissertation award and a departmental Social Ecology dissertation fellowship.

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Correspondence to Heather C. Lench.

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Lench, H.C. Personality and Health Outcomes: Making Positive Expectations a Reality. J Happiness Stud 12, 493–507 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-010-9212-z

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Keywords

  • Optimism
  • Goals
  • Self regulation
  • Health
  • Emotion