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Older Adults : Living Well, Living Longer

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Can Optimism Make a Difference in Your Life?

If you’re a person who always has a rosy outlook and sees the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, your positive attitude may have even more benefits than you think.

A growing number of scientific studies indicate that optimistic people tend to live longer and have better physical and mental health than pessimistic people.

The science behind the smiles

The unique phenomenon of optimism leading to better health has been scientifically studied more than 130 times. In 2010, a group of researchers studied the results of 83 of these reports to look for any common findings.

Once the researchers developed a consistent way to analyze the results of these different studies, they were able to show that optimism seemed to have a fairly remarkable impact on physical health. Whether an individual study looked at overall longevity, survival from a disease, heart health, immunity, cancer outcomes, pregnancy outcomes, pain tolerance, or another health topic, it seemed that those who had a more optimistic outlook performed better and had a better outcome than those who were pessimistic.

The message is that having a positive attitude can boost your physical health, regardless of what might be ailing you. The researchers also noted that optimism seemed to have fairly consistent benefits for people regardless of demographic factors such as income level or overall health status.

Optimism and mental health

Other research has found that optimism can positively affect both mental and physical health.

One recent study examined 662 disaster victims in the Netherlands. A control group of 526 unaffected people was also included in the study.

The researchers found that people with a more pessimistic attitude were at greater risk for severe depression, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, anxiety, sleeping problems, and problems with social function than those who were more optimistic.

How to be more optimistic

Changing yourself from a pessimistic person into an optimistic person isn’t always easy. Some approaches you can try to switch your mindset are to have positive thoughts about yourself and others and to stop comparing yourself to others in a competitive way—each individual has unique and special talents that should be appreciated.

Try to find the good in every situation, even at difficult moments. When facing a challenge, focus on achieving a positive outcome, rather than anticipating defeat.

Other strategies that can lead to a more optimistic point of view include exploring your own beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life, whether they are philosophical or religious. Also, strive to improve your physical health through exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleeping habits and hygiene—the better you feel, the brighter your outlook will be. Finally, challenge your mind every day by learning something new, including learning about yourself and your family history.