How does an Optimist cope with Grief and Sadness?

Grief is, in its simplest form, a sense of loss.  We can experience loss every day-- everything from a loss of self-esteem ("I can't zip up my favourite jeans any more!") to the more classic traumatic grief of the death of a loved one or a serious injury or illness.  Although we each grieve in different ways and on different schedules, we commonly deal with a number of impactful and painful emotions: anguish, distress, anger, shock, confusion, despair and guilt.  When these emotions hit, an optimistic point of view is particularly helpful.

While optimism cannot prevent the feelings associated with loss, the skills of an optimist certainly come to the fore to help cushion the blows.  Accepting and expressing loss is healthy, and drawing something positive from the experience is an optimist's forté.  Learning what our strengths are as a result of loss is positive in our continued development as human beings.  Coming to terms with a loved one's death and actually addressing the coming loss with the loved one is often very comforting for the person saying "goodbye" and the person letting go of this life.  The following chart shows strong indications that there is greater health to be found in releasing strong feelings than in repressing or suppressing them:

 World Research Links Cancer To Repressed Feelings
A team of researchers at Stanford University in California found that women who repressed their emotions were more likely to show disruptions in the normal balance of the stress hormone cortisol, compared with those who did not. Earlier studies have shown that the unbalanced cortisol fluctuations can predict early death in women with breast cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.
"People who have repressive styles tend to be more prone to illness, particularly [immune-system related] diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, infections, and cancers. The concept is of unexpressed anger. If one doesn't let it out, that could have adverse consequences." [University of California Los Angeles]
"Extreme suppression of anger was the most commonly identified characteristic of 160 breast cancer patients who were given a detailed psychological interview and self-administered questionnaire. Repressing anger magnified exposure to physiological stress, thereby increasing the risk of cancer" [Journal of Psychosomatic Research]
"Extremely low anger scores have been noted in numerous studies of patients with cancer. Such low scores suggest suppression, repression, or restraint of anger. There is evidence to show that suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, and also a factor in its progression after diagnosis." [Cancer Nursing - International Journal]
A 1979 study comparing long-term survivors of breast cancer with those who did not survive, scientists at John Hopkins University found that long-term survivors expressed much higher levels of anxiety, hostility and other negative emotions. Patients who were able to express their feelings lived longer than those who had difficulty in doing so. [Journal of the American Medical Association]
In a study conducted at the University of Colorado in the US, researchers found that people who repressed their emotions after a traumatic event had lowered immune systems compared to those who shared their feelings.
"Our work suggests that emotional disclosure may influence immune responsiveness as well as having general health benefits. We are investigating the effects of emotional expression in women with breast cancer." [University of Auckland Medical & Health Sciences]
Cancer surgeon Dr Ryke-Geerd Hamer from Germany has examined 20,000 cancer patients with all types of cancer. Dr Hamer noticed that all his patients seemed to have something in common: there had been some kind of psycho-emotional conflict prior to the onset of their cancer - usually a few years before - a conflict that had never fully resolved. Dr Hamer started including psychotherapy as an important part of the healing process and found that when the specific conflict was resolved, the cancer immediately stopped growing at a cellular level. Dr Hamer believes that cancer people are unable to share their thoughts, emotions, fears and joys with other people. He calls this "psycho-emotional isolation". These people tend to hide away sadness and grief behind a brave face, appear ‘nice’ and avoid open conflict. Some are not even aware of their emotions, and are therefore not only isolated from other people, but also from themselves.

*The above information comes from Cancer Counseling at

With gratitude, I base this blog on the book "Learn to be an Optimist: A Practical Guide to Achieving Happiness" by Lucy MacDonald, a Quebec-based motivational speaker with an academic background in psychology and counseling.

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Thanks so much for commenting! Your wisdom & sharing helps someone else along their journey to life-long happiness and daily optimism! ~Cynthia