Can being more optimistic help us live longer?
There have been certain elements in public life recently who have exhorted the nation to be more optimistic. Possibly easier said than done, especially if you’re trying to juggle the demands of work, family and care giving.
Yet recent research has suggested that people with higher levels of optimism can increase their life span.
The researchers weren’t sure quite how this happens, but thought that optimistic people may be able to regulate their emotions and behaviour, and recover from stress and problems more easily. They also thought positive thinkers were more likely to live healthy lifestyles.
The question then, is how do those of us who are glum, grumpy and cynical become more positive.
How can we be more optimistic?
Certainly not by being told to cheer up by our nearest and dearest. People don’t feel negative on purpose.
Mental health plays a large part in our outlook, and professional help may be the only way forward for anyone with significant challenges.
But if we just want to be a bit more positive in the way we look at life on an everyday basis, what can we do?
Look at the grey shades. Clinical psychologist Linda Blair, told the Guardian that looking at the facts and considering that there is more to any situation than just black and white can be very helpful.
Gratitude journals. One of the researchers on the project suggested writing down three things that you are grateful for every day and keeping a note of the kind things you do for others.
Best-possible self. Another suggestion from the team was this exercise where you envisage your future achieving what you would like, and how to get there. A tough one to do if you’re actually slowing down on the career trajectory, and are feeling squeezed by all the needs of family, young and old.
Get enough sleep. I know from joining the Sleepio app community that there are many people struggling to get through the day due to chronic lack of good quality sleep. Night time waking tends to be an excellent opportunity to think through all those things that a busy life don’t let us consider properly during the day. But worrying is just one of the enemies of sleep, and it’s hard to function positively when you’re tired.
For more tips, we’ve gone onto the web and done the research. There is plenty of advice about how to be an optimist, and we won’t list it all here.
Here are a couple from the Realbuzz team:
Don’t try to predict the future. This is tricky but wise when we’re supporting ageing relatives. They could spend the rest of their years dealing with one challenge piled on another, or they could lead happy, healthy lives for many years. And the same goes for us. So worrying about the future is to some extent futile. On the other hand, a bit of forward planning can be a very positive thing.
Fake it. Rather like confidence, if you don’t feel it, just act like you do. Try smiling and talking positively more often, and it could become more of a reality.
Or there’s these suggestions from the verywellmind site:
Recognise your own negative thoughts. Being realistic is probably better than being over-optimistic. But being overly negative can sabotage your efforts. A healthy outlook would be to remind yourself that all you can do is your best.
Avoid positive energy vampires. This is another difficult one for carers. We can’t just walk away from our seniors when they’re being negative, and it does seem that age bestows a certain degree of disagreeableness on many. But perhaps avoiding the negativity elsewhere in the world could help. Start with Twitter perhaps. And take a look at some of the advice our eldercare specialist and life coach has to offer.
Do we really want to live longer?
The research suggests that an optimistic outlook could help people to live until they’re 85. That’s quite a reasonable age in these times.
The question for many is whether a longer life is a healthy, satisfied life, or one fraught with difficulties. In some ways it’s a circular argument. If you’re happy and well, you’re more likely to be cheerful, so those factors together are likely to prolong existence.
Written by Kathy Lawrence, editor of When They Get Older.