The Relationship Between Optimism and Longevity
According to a decades-long study that was published August 26, 2019, men and women with greater optimistic tend to live longer than their pessimistic peers. The research identifies a strong correlation between optimistic and “exceptional longevity,” which is described as living to age 85 or older (Bergland, 2019).
So what is an optimist? And would you consider yourself one? Generally, optimists tend to look on the bright side of things and have positive expectations about the future. Unfortunately, a recent survey done by NBC News/Wall Street Journal found that many Americans are actually pessimistic and feel a “deep and boiling anger” (Bergland, 2019).
If you need some evidence-based reasoning to make an effort to be more optimistic, the 2019 study mentioned earlier involved more than 70,000 participants who completed a survey to measure their levels of optimism, overall health, and lifestyle habits such as smoking, alcohol use, and diet (Lewina et al., 2019) One goal of the study was to pinpoint specific psychosocial factors that promote resilient aging across the lifespan. Some participants in the study were followed for up to three decades (1986-2016).
“While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging,” first author Lewina Lee said in a statement. “This study has strong public health relevance because it suggests that optimism is one such psychosocial asset that has the potential to extend the human lifespan. Interestingly, optimism may be modifiable using relatively simple techniques or therapies” (Lewina et al., 2019). Lee is a clinical research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in Boston and an assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM.
As mentioned above, this study highlights a correlational relationship, not a casual one, meaning that they cannot conclude if optimism actually causes exceptional longevity. However, the question still remains: Why is optimism so strongly associated with longevity? Co-senior author Laura Kubzanksy of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health explains, “Other research suggests that more optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behavior as well as bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively” (Lewina et al., 2019).
Although more research needs to be done on the reason why optimism matters so much, the link between optimism and health is becoming more evident. The authors of the study conclude that “given work indicating optimism is modifiable, these findings suggest optimism may provide a valuable target to test for strategies to promote longevity” (Lewina et al., 2019).
Here are 6 ways to work on becoming more optimistic (Steinhilber, 2017):
⦁ “Try on” a positive lens: Try shifting your perspective into consciously thinking happy thoughts.
⦁ Take note of the company you keep: Positive emotions can be contagious. Having a happy spouse, or a friend or neighbor who lives within a mile of you appears to increase the probability that you will be happy as well.
⦁ Turn off the news: Five minutes of the morning news is enough to send anyone’s mood in a downward spiral.
⦁ Write in a journal for a few minutes each day: Taking the time to write down things you’re grateful for allows you to focus on the positives of your day and cultivate an optimistic mindset, a perfect note on which to end your day.
⦁ Acknowledge what you can- and cannot- control: Practicing mindfulness is a great way to help combat the tendency to ruminate over daily stressors, which is a breeding ground for negativity.
⦁ Don’t forget to acknowledge the negative: It’s important to remember that making an effort to be more optimistic doesn’t mean walking around wearing rose-colored glasses. While it’s good for our mental health to see the positive in situations, not acknowledging the negative can hinder you in the long run.
Bergland, C. (2019, August 27). Optimism Study Gives Optimists More Reason to Be
Optimistic. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the- athletes-way/201908/optimism-study-gives-optimists-more-reason-be-optimistic
Lewina O. Lee, Peter James, Emily S. Zevon, Eric S. Kim, Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, Avron
Spiro III, Francine Grodstein, and Laura D. Kubzansky “Optimism Is Associated with Exceptional Longevity in 2 Epidemiologic Cohorts of Men and Women.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (First published: August 26, 2019)
Steinhilber, B. (2017, August 24). How to Train Your Brain to Be More Optimistic.
Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/how-train-your-brain-be-more-optimistic-ncna795231
Zoe Mittman, LSW Growing up, you may have imagined your 20s to be filled with excitement, love and adventures. But life happens and reality sinks in. Your life is not what you imagined. It is complex. Filled with both pain…Read More
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