Decades of research show that individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer and to achieve “exceptional longevity,” that is, living to age 85 or older. This new study was based on 69,744 women and 1,429 men. The results were maintained after accounting for age, demographic factors such as educational attainment, chronic diseases, depression and also health behaviors such as alcohol use, exercise, diet and primary care visits. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
This is not a unique study, as other research supports that optimists have lower stress levels, better mental health, are more highly motivated, have better health and well-being and ultimately live longer.
Martin Seligman, the father of the Positive Psychology and the author of Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life compared the difference between optimists and pessimists,
The optimists and the pessimists: I have been studying them for the past twenty-five years. The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case. The optimists believe defeat is not their fault: Circumstances, bad luck, or other people brought it about. Such people are unfazed by defeat. Confronted by a bad situation, they perceive it as a challenge and try harder….A pessimistic attitude may seem so deeply rooted as to be permanent. I have found, however, that pessimism is escapable. Pessimists can in fact learn to be optimists, and not through mindless devices like whistling a happy tune or mouthing platitudes…but by learning a new set of cognitive skills.
Things to consider
• Are you Optimistic or Pessimistic? Try Dr. Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism Test
• Recognize that Optimism is a choice
• Approach life stressors and difficulties in a more productive way. Viewing the situation as temporary, recognizing that positive events will take place in the future and avoiding blaming oneself for negative outcomes will make a significant difference.
• Shift perspective from negative to positive. For example, you wake up and it’s raining. Instead of thinking how your plans for the day are ruined, consider some indoor relaxing activities.
• You are the company that you keep: If you hang out with chronic complainers and gossipers the negativity will be contagious. However, if you spend time with people who are upbeat and happy, it will increase the chance that you will be too. Notice who you spend time with. The more you connect with optimistic people, the more positive you will feel. In short, avoid the energy vampires and whiners.
• Limit News Coverage: The goal of the media is “if it bleeds it leads.” Know enough to be informed but limit your exposure as the news media is geared to provide a pessimistic viewpoint.
• Count your blessings: Writing down what you are grateful for is linked to greater feelings of optimism. Keeping a journal where you write down both gratitudes as well as your own acts of kindness can you give a boost.
• Acknowledge what you can and cannot control: Learn to accept what you have control over and let go of what you can’t. You can’t control the weather, but you can have a positive approach to it, such as appreciating you don’t have to water the plants, it’s helping with the local drought etc.
• Take responsibility for choices: Recognize that you have the ability to make choices, and if you make one where the results are less than ideal, own it and acknowledge that you can make changes so it won’t happen again.
• Be realistic: There are times it is appropriate to be worried and concerned. If you are sitting in an ER and worried about a friend that’s seriously injured that’s appropriate. However, if your friend is five minutes late for a luncheon date, thinking the worst possible things have happened to them, is not helpful. Reframing your exaggeratedly negative thoughts into more realistic statements can help you maintain a healthy dose of optimism.
• Show positivity towards others: Complementing and saying something nice at least once a day to someone picks up their mood as well as your own.
• Focus on Solutions Not the Problem: Replacing problem-focused thinking with solution-focused thinking immediately gives you a sense of forward movement, possibility, and hope — the foundations of optimism.
If you have the time, it’s interesting and can be helpful to watch some of Martin Seligman’s videos available on-line, such as his Ted Talk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FBxfd7DL3E