Most Americans feel pessimistic about the country they’re leaving to future generations. That’s the depressing outcome of a recent survey conducted by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal.
The implications of this negativity are wider reaching than you might first believe. That’s because the latest research shows that seeing the glass as half empty rather than half full heightens your risk of heart disease and takes years off your life.
The Monty Python song, Always Look on The Bright Side of Life, turns out to be excellent advice for longevity, according to researchers from Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital, New York and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston.
These researchers carried out a long-term analysis to assess the link between optimism and cardiac health.
They inspected 15 studies that included 229,391 individuals who were followed for almost 14 years. The findings were exciting, to say the least.
Heart Disease Risk Cut By 35%
Among those individuals identified on a standard psychological assessment as “optimistic,” the risk of a cardiac event, such as non-fatal heart attack, angina or even dying from coronary heart disease, was slashed by 35 percent. The risk of death from all causes fell by 14 percent.
Even after taking into account gender, location, depression, educational level, socioeconomic status, and physical activity, the results were much the same.
The study authors concluded that the “promotion of optimism and reduction in pessimism may be important for preventive health.” They published their findings in JAMA Network Open in September.
Massive Boost in Odds of Reaching 85
Also in September, the results of a second study on the effects of optimism on mortality was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A scientific team gathered data from 69,744 female nurses aged between 58 and 86 who completed an optimism assessment questionnaire in 2004. Mortality statistics were tracked for the next decade, until 2014.
The study also included 1,429 men aged between 41 and 90 whom researchers followed for far longer. These men were rated on the optimism/pessimism scale in 1986 and were tracked for thirty years, until 2016.
After taking into account factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, education, depression and other health conditions, the researchers found that women with the highest optimism scores lived 15 percent longer than those with the least optimistic life outlook. The figure for men was 11 percent.
This is a significant increase in lifespan for doing nothing more than looking on the sunny side of life.
In addition, comparing highest versus lowest optimism levels, women with the highest scores had a 50 percent greater chance of reaching the age of 85, while men had a 70 percent greater chance.
The study authors concluded that “optimism may provide a valuable target to test for strategies to promote longevity.”
Lewina Lee, lead author and assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, isn’t sure why optimism is linked to longevity, but suggests it may be because people who look on the bright side are better able to cope with stress and bounce back from the problems of life.
I’d have to agree. Stress can seriously damage your health. It contributes to physical pain and headaches, lowers your immune response, and leaves you at greater risk of illness. Anything you can do to better cope with stress will help you avoid illness in the long run.
Even illnesses like cancer. Several leading alternative oncologists point to case studies showing that a cancer diagnosis is more likely to happen in the five to ten years following a major traumatic life event, such as the death of a spouse, the death of a child, a divorce or other major life trauma.
While stress is certainly a part of any normal life, what can you do to help yourself look at the glass as half full rather than half empty.
How to be Cheery and More Optimistic
Some people have a naturally pessimistic disposition, but patterns of thinking can be changed, leading to a more optimistic outlook over time.
One simple method is to make a list of all the good things that happened during the day. These can be very simple, like being congratulated on performing a job well-done, spotting a beautiful bird, meeting up with a friend – anything you can feel grateful for.
By seeking out nuggets of positivity every day, optimistic thoughts will begin to come naturally. Trust me, it works. I’ve been doing it for years.
Another way is to routinely put a positive spin on everyday situations that might usually cause you stress. For example, a friend of mine whose car was hit in a parking lot by another driver said cheerfully, now those door dings on the passenger side will get repaired. This kind of thinking removes anxiety and helps you feel more positive in the face of a negative situation.
Another example: If someone cuts in front of you or acts badly while driving, assume they have a genuine need to behave that way. Say to yourself, “They must be late for an important hospital appointment.”
More formal methods include practicing mindfulness, which trains the mind to be non-judgmental about passing negative thoughts.
Another is called cognitive bias modification. This is a therapy used by psychologists to combat negative thinking patterns. If you’re struggling with turning the tide of your own thinking from negative to positive, it might be worth seeking professional help.
I believe this research on the heart health and longevity benefits of positive thinking reveals only the tip of the iceberg.