Do you want to live a longer, fuller life? Well, according to this study published earlier this month in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, you should seriously consider cultivating higher levels of optimism.
According to the new study, which involved almost 160,000 women of a range of races and backgrounds, those with higher levels of optimism often have a longer lifespan and a greater chance of living past 90.
The results of the earlier 2019 study echoed these results, concluding that the most optimistic men and women, regardless of socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, smoking, social engagement, poor diet, and alcohol use, showed an average of an 11 to 15 percent longer life span than those who didn’t practice much positive thinking. In fact, the results of this study showed that the highest-scoring optimists were likely to live to or beyond age 85.
How is optimism defined?
Many people believe that optimism means ignoring what’s bad or stressful in life, but this is a common misconception. Rather, practicing optimism means framing a negative situation or an obstacle as temporary, or even as an opportunity for something positive to happen.
Optimists are less likely to blame themselves for negative situations and believe they have control (to a certain extent) over their own fate and are capable of creating opportunities for good things to come in the future.
This 2019 study is added to prior research that has demonstrated how optimism is directly linked to better health. Optimism has already been connected to healthier diet and exercise behaviors, better cardiac health, stronger immune systems, improved lung function, and lower mortality risk.
How to practice optimism
Optimism isn’t something that’s strictly programmed in our genes. In fact, studies on twins show that only approximately 25 percent of our optimism is determined by our genes and the rest is determined by how we respond to life.
That means that even if you identify as a person who responds rather negatively to life’s stressors, you can still train your brain to take on a more positive approach.
According to a meta-analysis of existing studies, one of the most effective ways of boosting your inner optimist is the “Best Possible Self” method. This involves you imagining your future self and your future life in which you have been able to accomplish all your life goals and solve all your problems.
To do so, start writing for 15 minutes about the specifics of what you’ve accomplished. Spend five minutes imagining how this reality looks and feels to you. Experts say that doing this every day will significantly increase your positive feelings.
Students who practiced the Best Possible Self exercise for 15 minutes once a week for eight consecutive weeks reported feeling more positive in this 2011 study. However, the most impressive thing is that these feelings lasted for around half a year!
Another strategy for boosting optimism is to keep a journal in which you only write about the positive experiences you’ve had. Maintaining this positive practice can help reshape your outlook in general.
Keeping a gratitude journal of everything you’re thankful for is another effective way to improve your optimism. Gratitude in general has been shown to improve positive coping skills by breaking the usual negative thinking style to which we are prone.
Optimism is like a muscle—you have to practice and train it regularly to cultivate a more positive outlook in life. However, when you’re much older and looking back on your life, you’ll surely think that your daily positivity practice was worth it.