If you are happy and you know it… you may live longer

Plenty of research suggests optimistic people have a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and declines in lung capacity and function. Optimism is also associated with a lower risk of early death from cancer and infection. And now a new study links optimism to living a longer life.

What does this new research on optimism tell us?

The study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people who had higher levels of optimism had a longer life span. They also had a greater chance of living past age 85. The researchers analyzed data gleaned from two large population studies: about 70,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and about 1,400 men from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study.

The Nurses’ Health Study used items from the Life Orientation Test to assess optimism. The measure asks respondents to rate their level of agreement to several statements about optimism. The Normative Aging Study relied on the Optimism-Pessimism Scale, administered as part of a personality assessment. This scale examines the positive and negative explanations people give for events in their life.

For both men and women, higher levels of optimism were associated with a longer life span and “exceptional longevity,” which the researchers defined as surviving to 85. The study controlled for factors like chronic physical conditions (such as hypertension or high cholesterol) and health behaviors (such as smoking or alcohol use).

There were several limitations to the study results. For example, participants were largely white and had higher socioeconomic status than the general population. These factors may limit whether the findings apply to a wide range of people.

So why might optimism affect longevity? The study wasn’t designed to explain this, but the researchers had several thoughts. While one component of optimism appears to be heritable — that is, tied to our genes — our environment and learning also shape a significant portion. One takeaway is that we can all learn ways to be more optimistic.

How can you become more optimistic?

Whether you’re naturally optimistic or not, you can take certain steps in that direction.

  • Reframe situations. When some people confront difficulties, they tend to only view the negative aspects of the situation. Also, they consider these aspects unchangeable. To reframe a difficult situation, search for any positive aspects or silver linings. Is there anything you can learn from the situation? Is there anything you can teach to others about the situation, after you resolve it?
  • Set goals. Set achievable goals for each day and adjust those goals as needed. Be specific and realistic. For example, rather than a broad goal, such as “clean house,” identify specific areas that you plan on cleaning (wipe down counters, scrub kitchen sink). Research suggests that setting goals and having the confidence to achieve these goals is related to optimism.
  • Set aside time to focus on the positive. At a set time each day (perhaps at bedtime), think about the positive aspects of your day. What went well? What are you happy about? What are you proud of?
  • Practice gratitude meditations. Gratitude meditations focus on giving thanks for the positive aspects of your life, which can include family members, friends, or possessions, among other things. You can find numerous scripts and guided meditations available online.
  • Strengthen social relationships. The researchers noted that optimism is related to strong social networks. A strong social network can include spending time with close friends, or participating in regularly scheduled group or community activities. Joining new groups or scheduling time to see friends and family and engage in activities strengthens these relationships. Focus on spending time with positive and supportive people.
  • Practice the half-smile. A psychotherapy technique to cope with sad feelings is to practice smiling for a few minutes each day. If a full smile is not possible, a half-smile works as well. Notice any impact on your thoughts, mood, and level of optimism.

Comments:

  1. John H Hicks

    Thank you for this newsletter and I am already feeling better that I have another source for information to maintain the excellent physical and mental health I have experienced the past eighty nine years !

  2. Patricia E. Elliot

    I have just read the above and it has certainly made me think, I am not a negative person. By. Nature and I think I will try a little harder to have a few more laughs and think more about keeping. Negative thoughts out of my mind each day. I really have much to be thankful for as I am 88 years young and have a great caring family, my daughter is so good to me you see presently I have a broken arm and she. Helps me dress,
    Wash and all the necessary things needed each day so I must admit I am a very lucky lady.

    Thank you for above article today
    Patricia (Pat) Elliot

    You

  3. Freee Burd

    Very logical n beautiful indeed .

    Thanks

  4. Another Nico

    Don’t worry……. be happy 😉

  5. NICO

    An optimistic person is one who knows that the future is uncertain and does something to change it in his favour. Person who says “everithing will go well” is an incurabile pessimist because he will do nothing to influence his future.

  6. Venkat warren. M.D.

    Happiness and optimism are intertwined ; misery and negativism are equally intertwined ! So… why feel miserable when you can just as easily laugh and be mirthful ! Some would consider the basis for optimism sheer terror ! But.. our adventure is just beginning; it is not over yet ! Even lying in the gutter, you can gaze upwards and look at the stars and smile !! Remember the Swedish proverb: “Those who wish to sing always find a song!”.
    Cheers. I raise my glass of Bordeaux for your happiness !! VENKAT WARREN. M.D.

  7. Gilbert Grace

    “To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness – though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.”
    ― Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot
    The pursuit of happiness is overrated.

  8. Jill Miles

    Smile, smile, smile. You smile & the world smiles with you is true & you prosper as well. Think “Life is Good,” because it really is. No my life hasn’t been easy – lost two children, had cancer, have lymphodema & can’t walk but am happy. I have good friends, family, & enjoy small things — the weather, air, my yard, knitting, reading, writing, tv, etc. You control your outlook. Make others happy, be funny & up & the world will respond. I feel lucky. Enjoy!

  9. Ross Malick

    I have been practicing every step mentioned in this article. People ask me what makes me so happy and I tell them that happiness is a state of mind. Anyone can be happy. The key is to find something positive, no matter how minuscule, in any situation and hang on to that. Simple.
    Great article, Thanks.

  10. Norma O'Hara

    This is a must do for anyone looking to uplift their inner reflective attitudes & engage positive energy. Write out 5 things that you are absolutely thankful for. This list will take on a life of its own & will be forever changing. A note book is helpful.
    Within a short period of time you’ll begin to recognize things you’re grateful for, however small throughout your day.

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