Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty type person? Do you tend to see the positive, even in stressful situations? Or do you immediately assume the worst and focus on the negative? People generally fall into two categories when it comes to how we see the world–optimist or pessimist. If you’re a pessimist, those negative thoughts could be affecting your health and longevity. It’s time to see what the benefits of being an optimist are and how we can change our brains if we’re not one. A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that people who are optimistic are living longer. Most studies on longevity have focused on medical factors such as disease or obesity affecting how long we live. Recently, science has become interested in how other factors, such as stress versus optimism, might affect how long we live. “While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death,” says author Lewina O. Lee, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, “we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging.” The researchers defined optimism as a “general expectation that good things will happen or the belief that the future will be favorable because one can control important outcomes.” They put forth the theory that it may be possible to increase optimism using different techniques to improve longevity. This could have strong implications for our public health. What Does Science Say? In two particular studies–one conducted by the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), who followed 69,744 females between 2004 and 2014; and one by the Veteran’s Affairs Normative Aging study, which followed 1429 males between 1986 and 2016–the participants completed regular health surveys that looked at diet, alcohol intake, smoking and health related behaviors. The study also included questions on optimism. At the end of each study researchers analyzed the data and found that both females and males with the highest levels of optimism were living 11-15% longer than those with lower levels of optimism, many past the age of 85. While the research studies didn’t specifically examine the reasons why optimism created a longer life span, there are some logical reasons this might be the case. People who are more optimistic tend to engage in behaviors that promote health such as being more physically active or not self-medicating with alcohol, smoking or drugs. They also tend to experience less of the effects of super stress that is plaguing our world today. They can regulate their emotions and recover from stressful events more quickly.
Not Rose-Colored Glasses Being optimistic doesn’t mean that you ignore the stress in your life. It simply means you’ve developed coping mechanisms that allow you to deal with the emotions in a more productive way. Optimism allows you to reduce the feelings of sadness, depression and anxiety, helps you develop strong relationships with others, reduces the effects of stress on the body and improves cardiovascular health and your immune system. Experts state that the real difference between optimists and pessimists isn’t in how happy they are with their lives or how they see situations that occur around them. It’s in how they cope with the stressors and events. So, if you’re someone who tends to be pessimistic, it’s worth the effort to retrain your brain to react differently. Become More Optimistic Today A few things you can do today to start seeing the world in a more optimistic light:
- Put on a positive lens. In this instance you’ll have to make an effort to consciously shift the way you think about things. Challenge yourself to reframe situations to have a more positive spin on them.
- Check who you’re spending time with. If you’re constantly around people who are complainers, you will tend to be a complainer yourself. Positivity can be contagious also. Surround yourself with people who are more optimistic, and you’ll find it easier to adapt to that way of thinking.
- Turn off the news. This is a hard one. Five minutes of negative news to start your day can send anyone’s mood into pessimism. It’s hard to be positive when so many negative images surround us all the time. Limit how much time you spend reading or watching the news and try to balance it with activities that have positive benefits such as yoga, exercise or mindfulness.
- Start a gratitude journal. At the end of each day write down just one or two things that you’re grateful for or positive things you’ve experienced that day. This could be as simple as a great cup of coffee to start your day, a random act of kindness, or getting in a morning walk. Find small things to be happy about and it will snowball.
- Acknowledge what you have control over–and what you don’t. Some people are unable to deal well with stress, but optimistic people thrive no matter what the situation. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to stop obsessing over things you can’t control and focus on the things you can. And when we feel in control, we have more room to be optimistic.
- Acknowledge the negative. Just because you’re being more optimistic doesn’t mean you ignore the real world around you. It’s important that you’re not living in a fantasy world. A combination of optimism and realistic thinking helps you navigate through life in a meaningful way. You can support your optimism while taking action steps to create the positive future you’re envisioning.
- Use your BrainTap. One of the best ways to increase brain health and optimism is to utilize the tools you have available to you. BrainTap is a great way to practice mindfulness and reduce the stress which can ignite pessimism. BrainTap’s technology has been tested to create the perfect symmetry of sound, music and guided visualization for ultimate brainwave training and relaxation. You can relax, reboot and strengthen your brain, improve your sleep and reduce your stress–all of which are great encouragements for optimistic thinking and wellness.