Becoming optimistic can empower you to deal with challenges and move toward happiness and success. But what if optimism could be our fountain of youth and allow us to live longer and healthier?
Longevity, defined as living to the age of 85 or more, has been studied for decades and it is affected by many factors. New research suggests that psychological factors — like optimism — can predict longer life, promote optimal functioning and improve health.
Why optimism is good for your health
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill
Men and women with the highest level of optimism had an 11-15 percent longer life span on average than those who had little optimism, per research by Lewina Lee and team at Boston University School of Medicine.
“Optimism has some of the strongest and most consistent associations with a wide range of health outcomes.” –Lewina Lee
“Optimism has some of the strongest and most consistent associations with a wide range of health outcomes,” Lee said. “Including a reduced risk of cardiovascular events, lung function decline and premature mortality; and associations that are independent of other psychological factors like depression, anxiety and anger.”
Optimism is also linked to lower inflammation, healthier lipid levels and higher antioxidants.
In addition, healthier people tend to act in healthier ways — they exercise more, eat more balanced diets and have higher qualities of sleep. Healthier behaviors can also help you feel optimism, open you up for greater gratitude and create more energy for deeper relationships and professional satisfaction.
How to be more optimistic
Optimistic individuals not only have goals, but they also believe that they can reach them. This positive thinking can promote better habits and help you avoid impulses, as well as improve ability to problem solve and readjust.
Frequently, good experiences bounce off our brains while bad experiences sink right in. This is because we have a “2000-year-old survival brain” trained to make us aware of imminent danger. But most of us don’t live in caves anymore or have to hunt for food.
However, we have trained our brains to be more sensitive to stress. The good news is that we can learn to take in the good and internalize it into our brain. About 25 percent of optimism is predetermined by our genes, but don’t worry, we can train our brains to be more positive and create new brain connections.
Ready to retrain your brain and watch your life transform? Here’s how to start filling your brain with positive thoughts.
- Imagery: Think of someone who cares about you. Feel their love, create an image with them in your brain, with details, and hold it for about 10-15 seconds. This is roughly the time it takes to change from short term memory to long term memory.
- Best self exercise: Imagine who you want to be in the future. Imagine it in detail and as if there were no limitations. Now, write it down. The simple act of writing down best possible outcomes for careers, friendships and other areas of lie could generate optimism and healthier futures.
- Gratefulness: We have scientific evidence to how a daily practice of gratitude can help our health and improve our mental state. Every day, write down five things that you are grateful for, big and small. You can also write down the acts of kindness you do or that you witness throughout the day.
- More positivity: Look for positives even in tough situations. Laugh regularly so that you activate the happy parts of your brain. Relate regularly in positive and nurturing activities which will also improve your mood. Block time weekly to do more things that make you happy.
- Volunteer and serve: Giving or doing something for someone else makes us happier and helps us stay optimistic. These acts can activate the reward centers of our brain almost with the same intensity as if someone had done something special for us. Enjoy the process so it becomes a part of you.
- Stay connected: Humans are meant to be social. We all need to feel a sense of community. Loneliness has been shown to be detrimental of our long-term health in the same way as obesity and smoking.
- Mindful awareness and meditation: In one study, meditating for 30 minutes a day for two weeks produced measurable changes in the brain beneficial to our health. Use a guided meditation app in your phone if your brain tends to wander. You can also sit quietly, focus on your breathing and think about kindness and compassion for 15-30 minutes a day for similar brain changes.
- Goals: It is not just about achieving goals — planning and working toward them also creates a sense of fulfillment. Feeling a sense of progress will increase optimism. Goals are how happiness happens. Be clear about your goals and why you want to accomplish them; the how will come later. Visualize yourself accomplishing your goals, be as detailed as you can and feel all the emotions that will come with it all.
- Exercise your body and brain: The brain and mood benefits of exercise have been shown over and over. But do not forget your brain. Learn new things, find new hobbies and try new experiences that will add to your creativity and diversity.
- Resilience: Our thoughts bounce our emotions and we need to find more ways to bounce back. In many situations or problem scenarios, we need to pause and evaluate our automatic interpretations for accuracy, as our assumptions might not be correct. Try to filter your thoughts through a positive filter.
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About the author
Grace Glausier is the manager of digital content strategy for Baylor Scott and White Health. A graduate of Baylor University, she is passionate about connecting people through powerful stories and empowering individuals toward better health.