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For a Longer, Healthier Life, Train Your Brain to be Realistically Optimistic

Looking on the bright side of life could help you live longer, according to research

By fantom_rd/Shutterstock
By fantom_rd/Shutterstock

Never underestimate the power of expecting good things to happen in your life. It’s been linked to long life.

After decades of research, a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, — based on survey data collected from 69,744 women and 1,429 men) links optimism and prolonged life.

“A lot of evidence suggests that exceptional longevity is usually accompanied by a longer span of good health and living without disability, so our findings raise an exciting possibility that we may be able to promote healthy and resilient ageing by cultivating psychosocial assets such as optimism,” said Lewina Lee, the lead author of the study at Boston University School of Medicine.

Previous studies have also found people who see the glass half full are not only happier, they are also healthier and wealthier. They have a lower chance of dying prematurely from stroke, heart disease and even cancer.

The researchers also consider that more optimistic people tend to have healthier habits such as being more likely to engage in more exercise and less likely to smoke, which could extend lifespan.

The study highlighted the importance of psychological wellbeing alongside physical wellbeing for living a long and healthy life, said Dr Catherine Hurt, an expert in health psychology at City, University of London.

“The results suggest that as well as educating and encouraging people to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly to maximise longevity we should also be promoting psychological wellbeing and the importance of optimism,” she said. “An optimistic outlook appears to be a key part of a healthy lifestyle.”

Apart from embracing healthy lifestyles, optimistic are less likely to blame themselves when bad things happen. Psychologists call it “explanatory style” — a psychological attribute that indicates how people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, either positive or negative.

Some people tend to quickly say about their misfortunes, “It’s me, it’s going to last forever and it’s going to ruin my life.” That is the rationale of a pessimist.

An optimist will explain their misfortune differently: “It was just the circumstances. It was bad timing, choice, luck etc. It’s going away quickly, and there’s a lot going well in my life at the moment.” A setback doesn’t become an end in itself, but a setup for better things in life.

They don’t keep thinking about everything wrong with them or what could potentially happen because of the negative information. They see obstacles as temporary, opportunities for good things to happen in the future and a good time to build resilience.

Optimists believe they have total control over their fate.

People who are more optimistic are also more likely to form social connections because they see the good and best in people. They build better relationships with others and can inspire the best in those around them.

Persimistists, on the other hand, believe the worst is never over. They can’t stop frightening themselves with what can go wrong. Pessimists are not only unhappy, they believe calm and happiness are illusions — they are always unhappy that they’re unhappy. This state of mind becomes a cycle.

This mindset propels them into yet worse disappointments. They are in a constant state of worry even when they experience good things, they don’t stop to appreciate the good news in their lives.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” said Winston Churchill.

Without intervention, pessimists spend the greater part of their existence expecting the worst. This drains the life out of them.

Optimists don’t necessarily ignore life’s stressors. They deal with them better. Being optimistic a mindset. Good and bad things are bound to happen at some point in your life. The most important thing is knowing what to think when you receive or come across bad news.

Optimistic people are able to regulate their emotions and behaviour as well as bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively.

If you tend to worry too much about the stresses in your life, it’s not too late to change your mindset. You can choose to be optimistic in the face of negative information.

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely,” says Roy T. Bennett.

You can actually train your brain to look on the bright side of life.

One of the simplest and effective ways to train your brain to be more optimist is to imagine your best possible self. This approach, according to The Journal of Positive Psychologyis called the “Best Possible Self” method.

This intervention encourages pessimists to make time and imagine themselves in a future in which they have achieved all their life goals and all of their problems have been resolved. One technique, for example, is to write for just 10 minutes a day about a future day in your life in which you have accomplished what you want and how that feels.

In a study, students practised the Best Possible Self exercise for 15 minutes a week for eight weeks. Not only did they feel more positive, but the feelings also lasted for about six months.

Other habits like keeping a gratitude journal can help you focus on the good things happening in your life — the kind of appreciation that can foster a sense of optimism about your future.

Taking a few minutes each day to write down the best things happening in your life can improve your outlook, nurture your mind and break the typical negative thinking style.

Forcing yourself to look for the good things, and positive comments teach your brain that you can both avoid negative and also seek positive.

Originally published on Medium.

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