Being hopeful in the face of challenges is a powerful way to turn positive thinking into action. Norman Cousins is known for what he called “the biology of hope.” He relates an experience of physician William Buchholz reported in the Western Journal of Medicine. As Buchholz was eating breakfast one morning, he overheard two oncologists discussing papers they were going to present that day at the national meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

One of the physicians complained bitterly, “You know, Bob, I just don’t understand it. We use the same drugs, the same dosage, the same schedule, and the same entry criteria. Yet, I got a 22% response rate, and you got a 74% response rate. That is unheard of for metastatic lung cancer. How do you do it?”

The other responded, “We’re both using Etoposide, Platinol, Oncovin, and Hydroxyurea. You call yours EPOH. I tell my patients I’m giving them HOPE. Sure, I tell them this is experimental, and we go over the long list of side effects together. But I emphasize that we have a chance. As dismal as the statistics are for non-small cell, there are always a few percent who do really well.”

Researcher Toshihiko Marta and colleagues found that an optimistic explanatory style was associated with a 50% decrease in the risk of mortality or early death. They found that optimists had a decrease in bodily pain and role limitations due to emotional and physical problems. In the same study, these optimists also enjoyed an increase in physical function and vitality, general health perception, social functioning, and mental health. Hope, or the lack thereof, has been shown to impact other diseases, (such as Parkinson’s) as well.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” ~Bill Keane