Keep smiling: Study links optimism to longevity

Researchers have found that optimistic men and women tend to live longer lives. So, put on a smile – it might last into the next decade.

[3 MIN READ]

You can’t have a rainbow without rain. After the storm the sun will shine. No winter lasts forever. The clichés about optimism—and possibly the forecast—are so overused they could even make Pollyanna a little cloudy and gray.

Weather analogies aside, optimists may be on to something.

If you’re optimistic, you tend to expect that good things are going to happen. And then they become self-fulfilling prophecies (in a good way). When you look on the bright side, you have a general sense of control over the most important aspects in your life and assume that your future contains success and happiness. And now, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, you can live longer.

Researchers found that the most optimistic men and women had an 11 to 15 percent longer lifespan and 50 to 70 percent better odds of living to 85 years or older. 

The long-running study followed a group of women and a group of men who completed surveys to assess their level of optimism, overall health, and lifestyle habits like drinking, smoking, and diet. The group of women were followed for 10 years and the men’s group was followed for 30 years.

The results were a testament to the power of positive thinking. Researchers found that the most optimistic men and women had an 11 to 15 percent longer lifespan and 50 to 70 percent better odds of living to 85 years or older. This held true even when variables like age, education, chronic disease, regular healthcare, exercise, diet and alcohol use were taken into account.

The study’s organizers are not sure exactly why optimism has the impact it does, but hey, it’s worth a try!

Benefits of optimism (beyond the obvious)

Not only can optimism help you live longer, it has several benefits that can make a difference in your overall health and wellness.

Optimists tend to:

  • Regulate their behavior and emotions in a healthy way
  • Maintain healthy habits
  • Cope well with problems
  • Bounce back after setbacks
  • Control negativity
  • Manage stress effectively

Optimistic people still experience stress, depression and sadness. They have bad days and negative thoughts like everyone else. They just don’t allow them a prominent place in their thoughts and actions.

Grow your optimism skills

If you just don’t see the glass as half-full no matter how much fluid it contains, does that mean you’re destined to a life of negative energy and Grumpy Cat videos? Absolutely not.

Research shows that about 25 percent of your optimistic tendencies are genetic. The rest is up to you.

Optimistic people still experience stress, depression and sadness. They have bad days and negative thoughts like everyone else. They just don’t allow them a prominent place in their thoughts and actions.

Here are three ways you can improve how optimistic you are:

  • Practice gratitude daily—count your blessings, keep a gratitude journal, send a quick note to let someone know you appreciate them. Do something every day that reminds you of the positive aspects of your life.
  • Picture your best self—regularly visualize a future in which you have achieved your goals and are living the life you dream.
  • Be mindful of others—at least once a day, consciously think about the people who are important to you and acknowledge the important role they play in your life.

Find a doctor

If you find it difficult to stay positive through the ups and downs of life, the expert team at Providence can help you develop a strategy to change your way of thinking. Find a doctor in our provider directory. Or use one of the regional directories below:

Alaska

California

Montana

Oregon

Washington

Share your thoughts on mindfulness and gratitude at #aging with readers @psjh.

Related resources

Facing breast cancer with grit and gratitude

PNAS Study: Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in 2 epidemiologic cohorts of men and women

Is it possible to tap the fountain of youth with a new supplement?

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

About the Author

From how to identify and treat heart diseases to exercise tips to maintain an active lifestyle, the Providence Senior's Health team is committed to providing real-world advice that is hyper-relevant to helping those 65+ find ways stay young at heart

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