Choose to be optimistic and live longer
Studies have shown that optimists tend to outperform pessimists in all respects. You can choose to be optimistic. That’s right! Songs such as “Always Look on The Bright Side of Life” and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” have reminded us for years that it’s better to be optimistic than pessimistic. And now, a new study says that being optimistic can make us live longer. What’s not to like? According to a recent study of more than 150,000 women of different races and backgrounds, your chances of enjoying a longer lifespan and living past 90 are greater if you’re optimistic. According to the study, being an optimist even outweighs healthy lifestyle factors, such as not smoking, quality of diet, exercise and no alcohol consumption. Lead author Hayami Koga, a postdoctoral student at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says, “Although optimism itself may be patterned by social structural factors, our findings suggest that the benefits of optimism for longevity may hold across racial and ethnic groups. Optimism may be an important intervention target for longevity across diverse groups,” he added. Since we interpret life experiences through our internal filters, how we explain events to ourselves is a critical factor in optimism.
A 2019 study found that men and women with the highest levels of optimism lived an average of 11% to 15% longer life span than those who weren’t optimistic. Being optimistic doesn’t mean you don’t experience stress or ignore it; instead, optimists are less likely to blame themselves. Moreover, optimists are more likely to see the obstacle as temporary and sometimes even positive. They believe they control their fate and can create opportunities for good things to happen in the future. Other research has found a strong link between healthy diets, exercise, improved cardiovascular health and lower mortality rates for optimists. And the good thing is that all this is available to anybody. That’s right. You can train your brain to be more positive. Studies of twins have shown that our genes only account for about 25% of our optimism. The remaining 75% is determined by how we view and respond to stress and other problems.
Findings suggest that optimists tend to engage in healthy behaviors like exercise and nutritional diets and can resist unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and drinking. And because optimists also seem to handle stress better than pessimists, they opt to pursue long-term goals rather than immediate rewards when faced with a challenging situation. According to researchers, even if you think you’re a pessimist, you can become an optimist with proper guidance. Perhaps it also helps to believe you can? Optimists view hardships as learning experiences or temporary setbacks. No matter how bad their day is, they believe tomorrow will likely be better. Optimists believe positive events happen because of their own actions or characteristics and view them as proof that more positive things will happen in the future. They don’t think adverse events are their fault, choosing instead to view them as flukes that have nothing to do with other areas of their lives or future events.
Making the switch
How do you switch from a pessimistic mindset to an optimistic perspective? A great way to start is with positive self-talk. It would help if you learned to manage your internal dialog; the first step is to separate yourself from your thoughts. I like how Mark Divine states it in his book The Way of the Seal. “The art of positive self-talk is simply paying attention to your inner dialogue and directing it toward positive, performance-based language. Most people don’t take the time to sit back and witness their thoughts, which is an essential step toward realizing that our thoughts are not who we are. They don’t control us. They’re just thoughts. The only power they have is what we give them—what we feed them. Once you create that mental distance between you and your thoughts, you can start to tame and manage them.” What happens when we are faced with situations that make us angry? We need to Pause, Breathe, Think and Act (PBTA). We need to become aware of our anger, separate ourselves from it, calm down, determine what’s making us angry and decide what outcomes we want to see. This is where the real power of positive thinking and being optimistic comes from. Negative actions don’t lead to positive results. So, do as the Dalai Lama says, “Choose to be optimistic. It feels better.”