We all agree that a good partner can significantly up your quality of life. But in addition to having someone to kill bugs, share the less-than-sexy work of keeping your house habitable and keep you warm on cold nights, it turns out that your partner’s attitudes can be infectious. According to a new study from researchers at Michigan State University, optimistic and happy people help their partners stay healthier and happier as they grow together.
This can mean things as simple as good lifestyle choices rubbing off on partners — like quitting smoking, taking up the same active and invigorating hobbies or just creating a healthier environment and lifestyle together — which can lead to longer term health benefits as time goes on. And, we have to agree, there’s something really nice about having an optimistic ray of sunshine around (at least, sometimes).
“We spend a lot of time with our partners,” William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology and co-author of the study said in a statement. “They might encourage us to exercise, eat healthier or remind us to take our medicine. When your partner is optimistic and healthy, it can translate to similar outcomes in your own life. You actually do experience a rosier future by living longer and staving off cognitive illnesses.”
Published in Journal of Personality this month, the study looked at 4,500 heterosexual couples over an eight year period and found what they believe is a potential link between having an optimistic partner and being less likely to experience cognitive decline later in life. This is probably because, as researchers note, these partners are more likely to have a healthier environment at home. However, researchers are interested in the idea of finding a way to use optimism as a tool to help aging adults continue to maintain their cognitive function.
This isn’t the first time a study came to this conclusion — back in 2014, researchers looked into the same phenomena and found that, again, optimistic people were more likely to have a healthier support network (more friends), better attitudes about asking for help when they need it and to be more cooperative and better capable of problem-solving together.
“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.”
Are you and your great love a bit more glass-half-empty types? That’s totally okay. Even if you’re both a bit more of the grumpy, pessimist types, Chopik says that you can learn how to channel that sweet optimist energy if it doesn’t come naturally.
“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.”