Do your friends and family call you Pollyanna or Little Miss (or Mister) Sunshine? Do you believe the glass is half full, instead of half empty? Do you always look on the bright side? If that sounds like you, a Boston study published in August proves that your eternal optimism may not only have an impact on others, but it may also be adding years to your life!
Prior studies have shown that extremely positive people are less likely to die early from stroke, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. However, this study took the research a step further, proving that optimism may actually help you live to a ripe old age.
Tracking almost 70,000 women over a decade and nearly 1,500 men for three times as long, the study asked participants whether they agreed or disagreed with statements like, “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best” or “I’m always optimistic about my future.” Using their responses, the participants were then divided into groups based on their level of positivity. For both men and women, those exhibiting the sunniest outlook on life lived on average 11 to 15 percent longer, or to 85 and beyond.
According to Lewina Lee, the clinical research psychologist at Boston University, who headed the study, “We wanted to consider benefits of psychological resources like optimism as possible new targets for promoting healthy aging. The more we know about ways to promote healthy aging, the better.”
While the research did not identify a definitive reason for optimism being linked to longevity, experts speculate that positive people may be more goal-oriented and, therefore, more inclined to exercise and eat healthier. They may also be better at managing their stress, which has been linked to heart and liver disease and gastrointestinal issues, as well as rebounding from negative events in their lives. Optimists also have more social connections, which means they are less likely to experience loneliness and the health risks that come along with it.
Only about 25 percent of a sunny disposition can be chalked up to heredity. So, if you’re a pessimist, you can definitely take steps to turn that frown upside down. For example, regular exercise can lead to a more optimistic outlook. Plus, deliberately focusing on the good things that happen to you can help reprogram your brain from going to the dark side instead.
Just remember that if you keep a picture of a long, healthy life firmly in mind, you have a better chance of creating that future for yourself.