Almost anyone can benefit from it, but a lot of people don’t recognize its value. It is free, but it often involves some effort to develop and retain it.
Live a Longer, More Active Life
Research suggests that older people who have this attribute develop fewer difficulties with tasks of daily living and mobility problems than their less optimistic peers. So, not only could we live longer but live better as a result of this attribute or choice that we can make each day.
Physical and Mental Health Benefits
A Harvard School of Public Health found that people who possessed this had a 50% less likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. And women who embraced this were less likely to die from not only a heart attack or stroke but of cancer as well.
Some researchers speculate that people who are inclined in this direction or who have cultivated it may handle stress more effectively. Interestingly, stress levels have been associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that negative thinking patterns, in particular, could increase stress levels and blood pressure; these associated problems could contribute to the amyloid and tau deposition associated with the mind-robbing disease.
If You Don’t Already Possess it, You Can Develop It
If you haven’t guessed it yet, we’re talking about embracing a positive outlook or seeing the world through the lens of an optimist. The way we choose to look at our lives and life experiences can have a huge effect on our overall health and well-being.
It might be that people who are upbeat choose to take better care of themselves and maintain better health habits. Or, it may be that individuals who are more positive are more disease-resistant and have an increased will to live. Regardless of why, a large body of research does indicate that our attitude toward life and towards difficulties in our lives can be the difference between a longer, healthier life or one that is potentially shorter and more prone to chronic diseases.
Even if you are not naturally inclined to be optimistic, you can develop this type of life-enhancing outlook. It will likely take some practice and effort, but it is clearly worth it.
Studies have suggested that one way we can develop or enhance our ability to develop a more positive outlook is to intentionally practice a positive outlook for a few minutes each day. One article reporting on a study described how participants spent five minutes a day imagining the “best possible version of themselves across their profession, relationships, and personal lives.” After two weeks, these participants revealed “significantly” higher levels of optimism.
Another article suggested spending time with upbeat people so that we feel more positive. You may have read about how we tend to mimic or pick up other’s emotions. Called emotional contagion, we can experience more positive or negative feelings when we are around people who display these feelings.
Having an optimistic outlook can help us adjust and become more resilient as well. Part of living involves ongoing challenges, disappointments, and difficulties. As a pragmatic optimist, I try to remind myself that I’ve handled plenty of challenges in my life and have the skills to learn and adapt as needed.
I once had a 98-year-old neighbor who told me that having a positive attitude was one of her secrets to successful aging. She faced lots of challenges, but she didn’t allow herself to get mired down in self-pity or worry about things over which she had no control. My neighbor was a wise woman.
My challenge to you is to look for ways to find more bright spots in your day and in your life. Then share a little of that brightness with others.
June 22, 2020: With permission, I am sharing Joyce Cohen’s response. She has shared some excellent examples:
Oh, so true. Here are a few ways I practice this attribute daily. Frankly I never thought about it this way until you raised the topic:
…When negative things occur, I ask the question “What can I learn from this situation?” When a positive response comes to mind, it allows us to file the concern or follow up/confront appropriately and offer a healthier or more positive point of view. This isn’t Pollyanna talk. Allow yourself to get angry yet channel that anger to a targeted letter or face to face conversation to respond to the moment and move on. Easier said than done, it takes practice and it works.
…Adopt a quote or mantra…something that catapults you to see the positive side of an issue. Examples: “How would so n so respond to this who has been a positive influence on you?” What might I do to help the situation? Or, write a letter to a person or news source to express a healthier, positive point of view.
…Think of an action I might take to begin healing, understanding, or proactively do my part to improve the situation. A current example is the current Black Lives Matter revolution with which I agree. ENOUGH! I am writing to my African American friends and letting them know (a) how much I care about them and support the cause, and (b) actions I am taking locally to help make a difference.
Even with Covid and sheltering at home, there are things we can do to positively to make a difference. Examples: Write a note of appreciation to mail carrier or trash collectors, messages of support in chalk written on driveways or sidewalks. Outreach to local retirement communities…Brief story… I have dear friends who are not able to care for themselves anymore at home. Minus the story, their adult children moved them to a retirement community with varying care levels. With Covid, I couldn’t visit them so I wrote them humorous notes, upbeat cards and I delivered lunch to the staff at the residence from friends of the couple. Repeating what we have all seen recently “we are all in this together.”
Joyce Cohen is the co-founder of My Future Purpose (http://www.myfuturepurpose.com) and is the co-president of the Life Planning Network.