Ellen on Positive Aging Part 4: Cultivate optimism

Cultivate Optimism (Hope)

“New evidence that optimists live longer”—The Harvard Gazette—August 30, 2019

After decades of research, a new study links optimism and prolonged life.

Researchers from Harvard, Boston University School of Medicine, and the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System, have found that individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer and to achieve “exceptional longevity,” that is, living to age 85 or older.

Optimism refers to a general expectation that good things will happen, or believing that the future will be favorable because we can control important outcomes. Whereas research has identified many risk factors that increase the likelihood of diseases and premature death, much less has been known about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging.

The study was based on 69,744 women and 1,429 men. Both groups completed survey measures to assess their level of optimism, as well as their overall health and health habits such as dietsmoking and alcohol use. Women were followed for 10 years, while the men were followed for 30 years. 

When individuals were compared based on their initial levels of optimism, the researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11 to 15 percent longer lifespan, and had 50-70 percent greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic groups. The results were maintained after accounting for age, demographic factors such as educational attainment, chronic diseases, depression and also health behaviors, such as alcohol use, exercise, diet and primary care visits.

I want now to learn how to cultivate optimism. Like so many other things, I’m sure there’s a biological predisposition to optimism or pessimism, but also a massive amount of opportunity to change negative habits and patterns. Scientists estimate that our genetic make-up accounts for about 25% of our well-being; the other 75% has to do with how we live our lives.

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