I’ve read a few articles recently about how optimism is generally associated with longer life. One of the articles explained that optimists tend to have lower stress levels and feel more “empowered to overcome hurdles.”
I think of myself as a pragmatic optimist. I’m not a ‘Pollyanna,’ and I do try to anticipate situations that could become problems and plan for them. Still, I usually try to look for the rays of sunshine when I see clouds on the horizon.
Now having said this, I’ll confess that I’ve had periods when I was less than a ‘sunny’ presence—especially when I felt like aspects of my work environment –particularly the political and bureaucratic aspects—were outside of my control. However, I generally felt more upbeat and optimistic than not while teaching.
Reframing Challenges as Opportunities
Now that I am no longer have a fulltime career, I feel upbeat most days. That doesn’t mean I haven’t faced challenges (including a loved one who has been chronically ill). What it does mean is that I’ve been able to be more mindful about how I’ve wanted to respond to different circumstances.
Taking care of an ill loved-one has involved a lot of my energy over the past couple of months. However, I realize I’ve had more focused time to spend with someone I care about. We’ve had wonderful, rich conversations that both of us were too preoccupied to appreciate in the past. I think that when we look for opportunities to grow and look for opportunities to find something of value in any situation, it is more likely that we will discover it.
Reaffirming an Optimistic Outlook
When I take walks, some people in my community greet me with an automatic social script like, “How are you today?” I usually respond by saying something like, “Every day is a great day!” What I noticed by doing this is that I was starting to feel even better after telling others that I was having a great day. I suppose some people would call what I’m doing a ‘positive affirmation.’
Social Connections Shown to Support a Positive Outlook
Having social connections is also part of feeling positive about life and about aging. I enjoy meeting with different friends to talk, take walks or hikes, do activities, and sometimes enjoy a little wine tasting at one of our many local wineries. A 2013 Canadian study found that women who were optimistic about aging believed that close social relationships helped influence their positive attitudes.
An Intentional Mindset
I don’t necessarily think I was born with an optimistic outlook. I do have to keep working on my attitude. I try to reframe experiences that I might see as negative by looking for that ‘rainbow’ in the rain. I try to practice an upbeat attitude. I have learned it is important to stay connected with people. I also make an effort to express gratitude on a regular basis. Sometimes I do this when jogging or walking. Sometimes I think about all the things that bring me joy and for which I am thankful before going to sleep. Expressing gratitude does affect my attitude.
I do plan to live another 30 years or so – until I’m at least 97. I believe maintaining a positive attitude about life and about my current stage in life will be a factor in my own longevity. Even if my attitude doesn’t increase the years I have left, I do know that feeling optimistic makes each day a whole lot more wonderful.
What about you? What kinds of things do you do to keep a positive outlook?