Are you an optimistic person by nature or a “Debbie Downer?” If you chose the latter, then it’s time to lighten up. Science now reveals that adopting a positive outlook can bring about some awesome life changes. Apart from feeling happier, less stressed and more motivated, being positive may actually help you live longer.
Being happy keeps you healthy
Being optimistic can do more than just help you get through rough patches. It may actually increase your lifespan. In a recent Harvard University study, researchers found that women who had an optimistic outlook were less likely to die from conditions that included top killers like cardiovascular disease, cancer and infection. The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, may not be the first to link optimism to health benefits. But, it’s the first study that associates optimism with protection from major illnesses.
Researchers analyzed data from over 70,000 women enrolled in the nationwide Nurses’ Health Study. Participants answered survey questions about their health and mental state. Researchers followed their outlook on life during times of uncertainty for approximately eight years. Researchers found that women who were in the top quarter for optimism had a 29 percent lower risk of dying from any cause during the follow-up period.
Specifically, optimistic women had a 52 percent lower risk of dying from infection. They also had a 39 percent lower risk of dying from stroke, a 38 percent lower risk of dying from heart or respiratory disease and a 16 percent lower risk of dying from cancer.
More reasons to be positive
Science shows us that maintaining a positive outlook plays a big role in fending off some significant illnesses. Now it seems that maintaining a positive outlook also helps increase life span. New research from the University College of London studied how people’s outlook — over time — affected their longevity.
The study, published in BMJ, tracked almost 10,000 men and women between 2002 and 2013. During that time, researchers asked participants on several occasions to assess their outlook by answering four questions. The questions gaged how participants enjoyed spending time with others, their lives overall and how energetic they felt.
Seven years after their last answers, those with the highest satisfaction scores on all three occasions were 24 percent less likely to have died than people who reported no enjoyment. Those who said they were happy on two of the occasions had a 17 percent lower mortality rate. The reason? The longer you remain in a positive state, the better your health is.
So, how did the people who reported more joy achieve that state of well-being? Previous studies point to things such as good mental health and social connections. Keeping up friendships and maintaining good social interactions can be an important part of staying positive, particularly for older people.
Don’t be a “Debbie Downer”
Being positive doesn’t mean ignoring life’s problems. Being positive is a state of mind that helps you sail through tough situations without harboring resentments and emotional scars. Maintaining a positive outlook is the key to effective stress management. And effective stress management is crucial for fending off disease.
However, if you’re a tad negative — a “wet blanket” or a “Debbie Downer”— don’t despair. You can still learn to be positive and reap the many benefits.
Here’s how to sustain a positive outlook
How often have you heard someone say, or even said yourself, “life sucks!” We all have messages that play repeatedly in our heads. This internal dialogue influences words, actions, habits, relationships and ultimately the destiny of our lives, suggests Dr. Gregory L. Jantz for Psychology Today.
Negative self-talk can ripple and extend to all corners of your life, including your health and wellbeing. When you constantly expect the worst to happen, it does — just like a self-fulfilling prophecy. So how can you turn that frown upside down and draw optimism into your thought patterns? Here’s how:
Smiling is a simple way to trick your mind into being more positive. Even if you have little to smile about, the simple act of smiling can instantly change the way you feel internally. Right now, as you are reading this, smile to yourself and hold it for a few seconds. Notice how your mind reacts? You instantly feel less stressed and generally better. Now take that smile and point it in someone’s direction. Chances are they’ll smile back and pass it on.
Ditch the negative people in your life
Choose to surround yourself with positive people. It’s hard to stay positive if you’re constantly being barraged by negativity. If friends, family or coworkers trap you in a negative conversation, tactfully change the subject to something more positive. If you want to be positive, you can’t surround yourself with negative individuals who don’t encourage your happiness. Therefore, if negativity surrounds you daily, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your circle of friends. Choose to surround yourself with more uplifting individuals.
Choose to be positive
It’s easy to blame your negativity on outside forces like fate, relationships and coworkers. But in the end, it’s really up to you to find the good or bad in each situation or person. Don’t point fingers and place blame. Instead, realize that life happens and only you can choose how you want to perceive it.
Stand up straight
It may seem odd that something so simple as standing up straight could improve your outlook. But just the act of standing up straight and carrying yourself in a positive and controlled manner can change your outlook. It encourages your mind to feel more positive.
Be kind to others
Sometimes, we’re so focused on our own problems that we forget about others. It’s good for the soul to step outside of your daily routine and help someone else in need. If you can aim to do just one nice thing for someone each day, you’ll “up” your positivity. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose experiment. Simply pass on a kind word to a family member, friend or coworker, compliment a stranger or “pay it forward” in the Starbucks line.
Stop the negative self-talk
“Why me?” or “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Sound familiar? A little self-criticism helps keep you in check. But there’s a big difference between constructive self-help versus surrounding yourself with constant whining and negative talk. Excessive self-criticism tends to backfire. It leads you to focus on failures rather than solutions.
Focus away from negativity by listing all the things in your life that you are grateful for. Are you grateful to be employed, have a roof over your head and be in good health? Maybe you’re grateful to be greeted home each night by a loving pet, or for the people that care for you. Appreciating what you have can immediately shift your mood in the right direction. You may even want to keep a daily gratitude journal — on paper or on a smartphone — to help remind you of what is really important in life.
Navigating through life’s twists, turns and bumps isn’t always easy, but it’s not meant to be. It’s all part of the grander scheme that helps you appreciate life and grow spiritually. Your mindset is half the battle. Don’t get bogged-down by negativity. Instead, throw a little positive reinforcement under your sails. In the end, you’ll be happier, nicer to be around, healthier and you may even live longer.
— Katherine Marko