While most of us would admit that optimistic people are happier, now there is even more good news for the "glass is half full" crowd. ScienceDaily reports that a study conducted over decades links an optimistic outlook with living longer. In fact, findings indicate that optimistic people are more likely to live to age 85 or older.
A survey was conducted where 69,744 women and a total of 1,429 men were studied to determine their respective level of optimism. In addition to questions about mental outlook, individuals were also asked about habits that impact health such as smoking, exercise, alcohol usage and diet. The women were observed for a 10-year period. Comparatively, the male participants in the study were tracked for 30 years.
Science Daily reports that the results were conclusive showing that both male and female study participants with a more optimistic outlook lived about 11% to 15% longer on average. The positive correlation between optimism and longevity remained intact even after accounting for demographic factors such as educational levels, chronic diseases, depression and behavioral modifiers related to diet and exercise.
What Can People Do to Become More Optimistic
Now that we know that optimism can add years to your life, the question becomes one of how do we become more optimistic. Is this mindset something we can effectively change by practicing certain habits or are humans genetically wired to be either a pessimist or an optimist? CNN reports that an estimated 25% of our optimistic outlook can be attributed to our genes.
Evidently, humans have the power to change the way they look at things. It is in our power to turn lemons into lemonade. Some mood boosters found to help us create a more positive attitude relate to who we have around us. Strategically selecting the company of positive people who are nurturing and love to laugh is one proven way to improve your mood.
Another recommended activity believed to help us become happier is to keep a gratitude list. If you write down a list of things you are thankful for, it is a wonderful reminder of how good your life really is. We all take many of the wonderful gifts we get in life for granted. Having a roof over your head and food to eat is something that far too many people don't have.
Being optimistic does not mean being oblivious to the tough times we all experience in life. The difference between optimistic people and more negative people are those optimistic souls tend to view problems as temporary setbacks that they will get past. While pessimists might blame themselves for problems that arise, eternal optimists often process negative information as lessons instead of disasters.
Possible Explanations for the Link Between Optimism and Longevity
Definitive studies with conclusive results always lead researchers to the next question. Why are optimists living longer? The Washington Post speculates that optimistic people manage stress better than the rest of us. Being able to bounce back from setbacks means suffering less.
Another possible explanation for the study's results is that optimistic people tend to take better care of themselves. It is likely that they exercise more and eat better. It is not much of a stretch to understand how a healthier outlook and lifestyle leads to a longer life.
Why More Research Is Needed
Like any scientific study boasting conclusive findings, there are legitimate challenges that demand more research. One question that needs to be answered by continuing research is whether these findings will hold up when the participant pool is more diverse. The Guardian reports that most study participants were white and that lower-income levels were not well represented.
The risk of any research study is to assume that the participants are representative of a broader population. Studies with a narrow focus on a particular group of people can lead to false conclusions that can be attributed to other factors related to the characteristics of a narrowly defined group of people.
A few questions that must be answered by a more diverse study group is whether there are more optimists in general in a mostly white population that is financially stable. Until these types of inquiries are studied, then the full impact of the study's results is unknown.
Studies that show optimism tied to a longer, healthier life make it crystal clear that mindset and psychological factors are important to us all. While more research is needed, the results are fairly concrete. Smart people will embrace these findings and make an effort to change their lifestyle to encourage a more positive mental state. Meditation, healthy habits, and surrounding yourself with optimistic people who care about you will make it much easier for you to shift your focus to the brighter aspects of life.