Are you a glass half-full type of person? Personally, I’m more on the “throw away the glass” type of person but I may need to change that. Yes, the past two years may have affected our outlook on life. However, choosing to always look on the bright side of things can help you live a longer life. If you’re looking to the secret to longevity, then it can be found in the power of positive thinking.
Optimism and Longevity: What’s The Link?
Previous research has found an association between optimism and longevity. However, most of the studies have been whitewashed, having been conducted among non-Hispanic white populations. That said, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society set out to examine the link between optimism and longevity across racial and ethnic groups.
According to the authors of the study, a diverse population is incredibly vital during research studies as these groups have higher mortality rates than white populations, and there is limited research about them to help inform health policy decisions.
For the study, the researchers analyzed the data and survey responses of 159 255 participants from the Women’s Health Initiative. Aged between 50 and 79, the women’s data and survey responses were tracked for up to 26 years.
The researchers also assessed their level of optimism using a questionnaire called the “Life Orientation Test”. Additionally, they made sure to account for other factors such as education, marital status, income, and chronic conditions.
Is optimism the key to longevity?
“Higher optimism was associated with longer lifespan and a greater likelihood of achieving exceptional longevity overall and across racial and ethnic groups. The contribution of lifestyle to these associations was modest.”
25% of the most optimistic participants were likely to live up to 5.4% longer. They were also 10% more likely to live beyond 90 years than a quarter of the least optimistic participants.
The findings remained the same, even after accounting for demographics, chronic conditions, and depression.
Now you may think that healthy habits, such as exercise and healthy eating, may have contributed to the findings. However, the authors noted that these lifestyle factors accounted for less than a quarter of the optimism-lifespan association. This then indicates that other factors may be at play.
“Our findings suggest that there’s value to focusing on positive psychological factors, like optimism, as possible new ways of promoting longevity and healthy aging across diverse groups,” said Hayami Koga. Koga is a Ph.D. student studying population health sciences and the lead author of the study.
Optimistic people have healthier habits
According to a previous study published in Circulation Research, optimism was linked to healthier lifestyle habits, which include following a healthy diet, regularly exercising, and being less likely to smoke cigarettes.
Numerous other studies have indicated that these lifestyle habits are a great way to preserve your longevity. This is because they reduce your risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, dementia, and diabetes. Therefore, it’s no wonder that optimism has been shown to boost your lifespan.
Additionally, optimistic people also tend to approach stress differently. They’ve learned how to regulate their emotions and try to find the silver lining in that very gray cloud. Considering the fact that research has found that heavy stress can shorten your life expectancy by 2.8 years, maybe we should each learn to find that silver lining?
How to boost your positive thinking
- A happy body is a happy mind
Eating healthy, sleeping well, managing stress levels, and regularly exercising can boost your mood and outlook.
- Focus on the good
Direct your focus to the good things, no matter how seemingly insignificant they appear to be.
- Focus on solutions, and don’t dwell on the problems
Ask yourself how you can improve the current situation.
- Identify the sources of negative thinking
In doing so, you’ll be able to better evaluate why they have such a profound effect on your thinking.
- Leave the future where it is
The present is a gift, enjoy it.
- Practice gratitude
It will help provide you with a new perspective on life.
- Practice mindfulness
Stop, release your frantic thoughts, take a deep conscious breath, and really experience and immerse yourself in the moment.
What if my negative thoughts don’t go away?
If you find yourself still consumed by negative thoughts, then it may be time to consult a healthcare professional. They will help you manage your emotions and assist you on a path to positive thinking.
Boehm, J. K., Chen, Y., Koga, H., Mathur, M. B., et al. (2018). Is Optimism Associated With Healthier Cardiovascular-Related Behavior? Meta-Analyses of 3 Health Behaviors. Circulation research, 122(8), 1119–1134. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.117.310828
Härkänen, T., Kuulasmaa, K., Sares-Jäske, L., Jousilahti, P., et al. (2020). Estimating expected life-years and risk factor associations with mortality in Finland: cohort study. BMJ open, 10(3), e033741. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2019-033741
Koga, H. K., Trudel-Fitzgerald, C., Lee, L. O., James, P., et al. (2022). Optimism, lifestyle, and longevity in a racially diverse cohort of women. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 10.1111/jgs.17897. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1111/jgs.17897