New research is suggesting that a positive outlook—or virtually any dose of positivity—can extend life.
That means if you battle depression and negative emotions, you can still experience benefit if you remain hopeful in some areas from time to time. And for the eternal optimists out there, it could make a big difference in your quality and length of life.
What was truly interesting is that an optimistic outlook was associated with longer life in people who drank, smoked, didn’t exercise, had a poor diet, had undergone significant medical care, or suffered from chronic illness. The more positive a person was, the longer they were likely to live.
Other studies have linked optimism to lower risk for chronic illness and premature death. The new study, looking at 70,000 women and 1,400 men, builds on those studies. Part of the reason optimism might aid health and longevity is that positive people tend to have less stress in their lives. Or perhaps not less stress—they are just affected by it differently. Stressful situations are looked at more as opportunities to overcome, rather than negatives that drag them down.
Stress is known to take a sizeable physical toll, which tells us why positive people were more likely to reach age 85 or higher—termed “exceptional longevity.” It’s possible their reaction to stressful situations, and how they dealt with them, have made optimists 50-70 percent more likely to reach 85 than their least optimistic counterparts.
Reducing stress and increasing optimism isn’t easy, but it is behavior that can be learned, to a degree. There are some short-term things you can do to help cope with stress in the short term, like mindfulness, meditation, exercise, tai-chi, or yoga. For a more long-term approach, it will take some more work. Talking to a professional may help ease your stress by identifying its causes and helping you devise a plan to manage. It takes time, but over the long-term, it is possible to acquire a more positive outlook.
With better stress management techniques and a better outlook, you may be able to increase the length and quality of your life.