Fostering Optimism Today Shapes a Healthier Brighter Tomorrow
Research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that young people with more psychological assets, such as optimism, are more likely to experience favourable cardiometabolic health (CMH) patterns two decades later. The study, entitled "Adolescent Psychological Assets and Cardiometabolic Health Maintenance in Adulthood: Implications for Health Equity" by Farah Qureshi, Anne‐Josee Guimond, Elaine Tsao, Scott Delaney, Julia K. Boehm, and Laura D. Kubzansky, provides fascinating insights into the long-term impacts of psychological well-being in adolescence.
The researchers define positive CMH as meeting recommended levels of multiple cardiometabolic risk factors without manifesting disease. Their study examined associations between five psychological assets (optimism, happiness, self‐esteem, belongingness, and feeling loved and wanted) in adolescence and cardiometabolic health assessed using seven biomarkers measured twice in adulthood. The study's results underscore the significance of fostering psychological assets like optimism in adolescence, not just for preventing cardiovascular disease but also as an underestimated factor in shaping health inequities.
However, another survey, "Are The Kids OK?" by Dr Quentin Maire, Nadishka Weerasuriya, and Associate Professor Jenny Chesters from the University of Melbourne, reveals a less encouraging scenario.
Surveying Year 11 Australian students, the researchers found that fewer than half felt optimistic about Australia's future, and only one in six expressed confidence in the world's future. Over half of the students (53%) were pessimistic about the world's future, reflecting a sense of despair that a large percentage of their generation feels.
Despite these statistics, it's crucial to note that many optimistic young people are still ready to change the world for the better. I've had the privilege of meeting many of them. Furthermore, optimism is not static; it can be fostered and nurtured.
We're preparing to host the Nelson Mandela Youth Leadership Summit in this context. At this event, we ask the students to reflect on what Mandela would call upon them to do. Mandela, a paragon of resilience and hope, said, "I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed towards the sun, one's feet moving forward." These powerful words remind us of optimism's guiding role in forging a path forward, even in the face of adversity.
At the Centre for Optimism, we are committed to nurturing this spirit of optimism. We've been investigating optimism, asking, "What makes you optimistic?" and "What makes you feel optimistic?" for five years. We've drawn from a lifetime of optimism and years of research into Australian leadership. We recommend simple practices like asking, "What's been the best thing in your day?" and hosting popular workshops at conferences, workplaces, and schools. Through these endeavours, we strive to lift the pervasive 'fog of pessimism' and ignite a spark of optimism that can inspire individuals, communities, and nations.
The challenge of fostering optimism is not unique to Australia. As Singapore's Senior Minister & Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, declared, "We have entered an era without precedent... it has led to a loss of optimism almost across the world." This is not a challenge to shy away from; instead, it is a call to action that requires collective endeavour and global collaboration.
Let us all commit to being beacons of optimism, lighting the way through these uncertain times. Let's empower each other to envision and build a positive future for ourselves, our nations, and our world. By embracing optimism, we can help our youth maintain healthy cardiometabolic patterns, reduce health inequities, and cultivate a more positive outlook on the future.
When we shift our focus towards optimism, we change the narrative. As Penny Mordaunt MP, UK's Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council, aptly put it, "The faultline in politics at the moment is not between left and right but between optimists and pessimists. We need optimists for the next tough shift." Her words resonate in the political landscape and every sphere of life, reminding us of the vital need for optimism across all sectors.
Therefore, let's be optimists. Let's foster hope and positivity in our children, workplaces, communities, and the world. Let's keep our heads pointed towards the sun and our feet moving forward, as Mandela urged us. By doing so, we can not only navigate the storm but also emerge from it stronger, better, and more optimistic about the future.
This is our call to action. This is our challenge. And most importantly, this is a challenge we can rise to. We can instil optimism in our youth, and in doing so, we can contribute to creating a healthier, happier, and brighter world for all. The optimism we foster today will be the beacon of hope that lights up the world of tomorrow.