There is an avalanche of life-enhancing benefits associated with being an optimist. Optimists are more resilient, exhibit more powerful coping skills, experience fewer negative emotions, and have more meaningful relationships. Beyond this, a remarkable new study indicates optimizers may even live longer.
Harvard University researchers earlier this month published an astonishing study in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society that found of the 150,000 women studied, those who were most optimistic were likely to have a longer lifespan—as well as a 10 percent greater likelihood of living beyond the age of 90.
The study also counters earlier studies that focused on longevity in relationship to deficits or risk factors that increase the likelihood of disease and premature death. This study’s lead author, Hayami Koga, suggests that instead there is value in considering positive psychological factors, like optimization, as a new approach to promoting longevity and healthy aging across diverse groups.
Are you an optimist or pessimist?
Do you see sunset or sunrise? An optimist will see sunrise, a pessimist sunset.
Source: Image by Gina Wild
Does that study make you wonder if you are an optimist or a pessimist? Here’s a quick test. Consider the following:
- If my plans go awry, there’s always a plan B.
- I am lucky.
- Most of my friends are optimists.
- When something goes wrong, I don’t spend time assigning blame.
- I generally go with the flow rather than plan.
- I rarely worry or catastrophize.
An optimizer generally agrees with the above statements. A pessimist generally disagrees. If you find yourself disagreeing with many of these statements, the good news is that you have an opportunity to boost your optimism, which is the mindset that reflects the prism through which you view the world.
Beyond the possibility of offering you greater longevity, optimization sets the tone for your entire life. It directs your thoughts and determines your actions.
Optimists believe wholeheartedly that things will work out, and when they don’t work out, an optimist will learn from the experience to navigate a new path. Pessimists tend to have less confidence and take failures personally. Any setback can wound their self-esteem. They often rebound by assigning blame to others.
This recent Harvard study noted that being optimistic is in part an inherited trait, and an earlier British study ascertained that about 25 percent of a person’s mindset or predisposition for optimism is genetically inherited. That allows for significant room to modify your mindset through behavioral strategies. In short, the experts advocate for consciously changing your mindset, and by doing so, changing your life.
Change chairs in your mind for a new outlook
Here are some quick techniques to begin to eliminate pessimism from your life and embrace a more hopeful outlook.
1. Look on the bright side. More than a trope, the figurative phrase “looking on the bright side” is what psychologists typically call “positive reframing.” Ask yourself, is there a positive side to your negative experience? Did you experience a challenging separation from a job or a partner? As those doors close, what windows open inviting you to experience unanticipated chapters that broaden your worldview?
A few years ago, I met author Hollye Jacob, RN, MS, MSW, who wrote a compelling book that embraces this theory. She found there are even silver linings in cancer, as she wrote in a beautifully envisioned book, The Silver Lining: A Supportive and Insightful Guide to Breast Cancer,
The next time you are disappointed and hurt, try reframing the experience and reach a silver lining.
2. Birds of a feather flock together. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Who are your five people? This theory was confirmed by Harvard social scientist Nicholas Christakis and San Diego professor James Fowler who studied the influence of friendships and social networks on lifestyle and health. Here’s what they found. The habits of your friends are infectious up to three degrees of separation. This applies to nearly every aspect of your life, from whether you vote, marry, divorce, smoke, gain weight, donate money, and, importantly, whether you are happy.
Look again at your five people and ask if they are optimists or pessimists, and reshuffle the deck if necessary to add more optimizers to your life.
2. Let it be. To borrow from Lennon-McCartney, “and when the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me, shine on ’til tomorrow—let it be.” Acceptance is the endpoint where one acknowledges the situation just “is what it is,” that the unfortunate event is unalterable, and the loss permanent. It offers a release from rumination, dwelling, and tormenting oneself by being mired in the past. Acceptance is a direct path to resilience. The process of accepting what you can not change will be uplifting and lead you to a state of greater optimism.
Ask yourself if there is anything you can do about the situation? No? Then don’t nurse the loss or grievance. Send it away to free your mind for happier thoughts.
3. Thanks for the memories. If there is only one change you can make in your life to alter your outlook, promote healthy relationships, and increase your potential for longevity, it is this: Say thank you. Expressing gratitude is considered the forgotten factor in happiness research, says Robert Emmons, the foremost expert on gratitude. His research shows that gratitude produces measurable results in the body, in the mind, and in the social world. It actually improves physical health. A routine gratitude practice in which you write down those things for which you’re thankful has exponential benefits in terms of health, relationships, and overall resilience.
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough, Meister Eckhart wrote.” Begin today by considering the gifts in your life–and then write them down.
In summary, promoting optimism is not to suggest you wear rose-colored glasses, but rather to assert you are advantaged when you accept what comes your way and when you learn to navigate life’s turbulent waters with equanimity and an eye for opportunity. An optimist would certainly agree with Victor Hugo who wrote “even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” Keep an eye open always for the sunrise on the horizon. Do you?