Why Optimists Live Longer Than Us

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Do you tend to see the glass as half full rather than half empty? Are you always looking for the bright side of life? If so, you might be surprised to learn that this trend might actually be good for your health.

A number of studies have shown that optimists enjoy higher levels of well-being, better sleep, reduced stress, and even better cardiovascular health and immune function. And now, a study links being optimistic to living longer.

The researchers followed the lifespan of some 160,000 women aged 50 to 79 for 26 years. At the start of the study, the women completed a self-report measure of optimism. Women with the highest scores on the measure were classified as optimistic. Those with the lowest scores were considered pessimistic.

Why some people are more optimistic than others – and why it matters

Then, in 2019, the researchers followed the participants who were still alive. They also looked at how long deceased participants lived. What they found was that those with the highest levels of optimism were more likely to live longer. More importantly, optimists were also more likely than pessimists to live to age 90. The researchers call this “exceptional longevity”, given that the average lifespan of women in developed countries is around 83 years.

What makes these results particularly impressive is that the results held even after taking into account other factors known to predict a long life – including education level and economic status, ethnicity and if a person was suffering from depression or other chronic health conditions.

But since the study only looked at women, it’s unclear if the same is true for men. But another study looking at both men and women also found that the most optimistic people had an 11-15% longer lifespan than those who were the least optimistic.

So why do optimists live longer? At first glance, it would seem that it might have to do with their healthier lifestyles.

A healthy lifestyle can increase life expectancy, study finds

For example, research from several studies found that optimism is linked to healthy eating, physical activity, and reduced likelihood of smoking cigarettes. These healthy behaviors are well known to improve heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is also important for reducing the risk of other life-threatening diseases, such as diabetes and cancer.

But having a healthy lifestyle might just be part of the reason why optimists live longer than average. The latest study found that lifestyle only accounted for 24% of the link between optimism and longevity, suggesting that a number of other factors affect the longevity of optimists.

Another possible reason could be the way optimists deal with stress. When faced with a stressful situation, optimists tend to face it head-on. They use adaptive coping strategies that help them resolve the source of the stress or view the situation in a less stressful way. For example, optimists will problem solve and plan ways to cope with the stressor, call on others for help, or try to find a “silver lining” in the stressful situation.

All of these approaches are well known for reducing feelings of stress, as well as the biological reactions that occur when we feel stressed. It is these biological responses to stress, such as increased cortisol (sometimes called the “stress hormone”), increased heart rate and blood pressure, and impaired immune system function, that can impair health over time and increase the risk of developing life. -threatening diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. In short, the way optimists deal with stress may provide some protection against its harmful effects.

look on the bright side

Optimism is generally considered by researchers to be a relatively stable personality trait that is determined by both genetic and early childhood influences (such as having a secure and warm relationship with your parents or caregivers). But if you’re not naturally inclined to see the glass half full, there are ways to increase your ability to be optimistic.

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Research shows that optimism can change over time and can be cultivated by engaging in simple exercises. For example, visualizing and then writing about your “best possible self” (a future version of yourself who has achieved your goals) is a technique that studies show can dramatically increase optimism, at least temporarily. But for best results, goals should be both positive and reasonable, rather than just wishful thinking. Likewise, simply thinking about positive future events can also be effective in boosting optimism.

It’s also crucial to temper any expectation of success with a clear view of what you can and cannot control. Optimism is heightened when we know the positive results we expect, but it can diminish when those results are not as we wish. Although more research is needed, it’s possible that regularly picturing yourself as having the best possible results and taking realistic steps to achieve them can help develop an optimistic mindset.

Of course, that might be easier said than done for some. If you’re not naturally optimistic, the best chance to improve your longevity is to adopt a healthy lifestyle by staying physically active, eating healthy, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. Add to that cultivating a more optimistic mindset and you could further increase your chances of living a long life.

This article was originally published on laconversation.com.

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