Do you know that old song, ‘Always look on the bright side of life’? It turns out that the song is not only fun to sing along to, but it offers great advice if you want to extend your life. New research has found that if you are optimistic it extends your life by up to 15 years. The study by researchers at Boston University, adds to already existing evidence that optimistic men and women live longer than pessimistic people.
This year I have again and again stumbled across research that backs up the benefits of what I have been saying for years. My Prosperity Mindset philosophy has always advocated optimism. I have always told you to work hard and expect good things to come your way. Now it turns out that being optimistic is also very good for your health.
These Boston researchers found that people who scored higher on optimism tests were more likely to live past the age of 85. Those with higher optimism levels at the start of the study were more likely to have earnt university degrees and still be physically active in old age. Optimistic people are also less likely to have health conditions like diabetes or depression.
Optimism is associated with a longer life
The lead researcher on the study and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, Lewina Lee, said the research definitely found that optimism was associated with a longer life.
“Our findings speak to the possibility that raising levels of optimism may promote longevity and healthy ageing,” she said.
“Evidence from randomised control trials suggest that interventions, such as imagining a future in which everything has turned out well, or more intensive cognitive-behavioural therapy, can increase levels of optimism.
“Initial evidence from other studies suggests that more optimistic people tend to have goals and the confidence to reach them, are more effective in problem-solving, and they may be better at regulating their emotions during stressful situations.”
Study was based on nurses and servicemen
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved long-term follow up of women enrolled in the American Nurses Health Study and men in the US Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study.
The women have been followed since 1976, and in 2004 they completed a six-question optimism assessment. Their survival was tracked until 2014. The men have been followed since 1961, and in 1986 they completed a baseline assessment with 263 true or false statements about their experiences and their outlook on life. Survival outcomes were tracked through 2016.
Optimism was defined as “a psychological attribute characterised as the general expectation that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be favourable because one can control important outcomes”.
Optimism can increase your life by more than 10 years
The results suggest that optimism can increase your life by 11 to 15 percent. Participants with the highest versus lowest optimism levels had a much better chance of living to 85. Optimistic women were 1.5 times more likely to make it to 85 years than pessimistic women while optimistic men were 1.7 times more likely than pessimistic men to make it to 85 years of age.
Earlier studies have also found that optimistic people are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases and die early.
In 2009 researchers at the University of Pittsburgh tested the outlook of 97,000 postmenopausal women, all of whom were free of cancer and cardiovascular disease when they took personality tests.
When the researchers compared the most optimistic 25 per cent with the most pessimistic 25 per cent, they found that out of every 10,000 optimists, 43 developed Coronary Heart Disease and overall 46 died, while for every 10,000 pessimists there were 60 cases of Coronary Heart Disease and 63 deaths overall. Again the optimistic people had better health.
Pessimism leads to early death
A Dutch study of 941 subjects aged 65-80, published in 2004, found that pessimistic people were 55 per cent more likely to die over the next nine years, and this was independent of other factors such as education, smoking and alcohol consumption. The effect was particularly strong in men – meaning optimistic men are much healthier than pessimistic men.
Another 1988 optimistic study looked at 99 Harvard graduates from the classes of 1942-1944. At 25 years of age they filled in questionnaires looking at life attitudes and levels of optimism. When doctors examined their physical health over the next 35 years, they found that those who were pessimistic when they finished university were more likely to experience poor health between the ages of 45 and 60, taking into account their physical and mental health at 25.
A study in the US in 2006 looked at 6,958 students who had taken a psychological test when they enrolled at the University of North Carolina in the 1960s. Among the most pessimistic third of the subjects, the death rate for the pessimists was 42 per cent higher over the next 40 years than for the optimists.
What is the take-out message?
I think the only thing you can learn from this research is that you need to learn optimism if you want to improve your health and extend your life.
How do you become more optimistic?
1. Focus on solutions, not on obstacles: If you find yourself obsessing about a problem, feeling negative, or experiencing self-doubt, change your focus by asking: What's one thing I could do differently that might make this situation better? Replace problem-focused thinking with solution-focused thinking.
2. Spend 30 secs daily thinking about ‘as good as it gets’: Create a movie of your ideal life, including specific details about how you look, how you feel, what you're doing, and what your life is like. Set aside 30 seconds every day to play this movie in your mind. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to do it.
3. Find any improvement to a situation: Look for any improvement in a challenging situation as a solution, no matter how small. For example, losing half a kilogram may seem small when your goal is 20 kilograms, but it’s a step in the right direction.
4. Minimize obstacles to success: One of the ways to achieving optimism is to make steady progress, and that means limiting distractions. Don’t get distracted and stay on track.
5. Invent an inner coach: Many of us are more confident and perform better when someone is cheering us on. One way to reinforce these traits is to conjure up a coach in your mind. Recall a role model who inspired you. When faced with a daunting task, ask yourself, “What would So-and-So do if he or she was here?”
6. Give yourself daily “well dones”: Get in the habit of congratulating yourself daily for good work. Take a few moments every day to ask yourself, what have I done well? This simple gesture reinforces optimism.
7. Look after your body: A happy body helps you generate happy thoughts and emotions. Optimism is easier when you are strong and healthy. You know that means eating well, sleeping well and spending some time doing the things you love.
Mental and physical health should never be taken for granted. You need to work hard to achieve both. And research is also showing that mental and physical health are linked, meaning if you are optimistic you are more likely to be healthy and live a long life.
My advice to you, take good care of both your mental and physical health.
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ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.