Wisdom//

The Jaw-Dropping Habit That Adds Happiness and Years to Your Life

Surprise — it's not getting more sleep or exercise.

Courtesy of ismagination/Shutterstock
Courtesy of ismagination/Shutterstock

If you’ve been looking for the fountain of youth, look no further. You won’t find it in a chill pill or cosmetic surgery. All you have to do to turn back the clock is one simple thing: Change your outlook. The way in which you think about your lot makes all the difference in your mood and longevity.

Are you a pessimist, living the life of an underdog? Or are you an optimist, living at the top of your game? Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” You might think your life sucks even though others think you have a charmed life. Whatever you think about and focus on expands in scope. Lack creates more lack. But when you appreciate what you have instead of wanting more, you cultivate life satisfaction and stress-free living.

Studies reveal the secret mojo

The secret mojo to a longer and happier life? Optimism. Scientists say optimism literally expands your peripheral vision and lets you see more possibilities and solutions to problems than pessimism, which limits your outlook. Optimism shows you who you truly are, the personal resources you have, and the opportunities embedded in stressful conditions. It’s no wonder studies show that optimists have lower stress levels and more stable cardiovascular systems than the average person. You can see why blood samples reveal that optimists have stronger immune systems and fewer stress hormones than pessimists.

Optimists know and believe in their capabilities and adopt healthier habits, too. They scoot up the success career ladder faster and farther than pessimists. Statistics show that optimists have fewer health complaints, healthier relationships, and live an average of seven and a half years longer than pessimists. A study of 2,800 patients reported that the ones optimistic about their heart disease were more likely to live 15 years longer than those with a pessimistic outlook. Patients pessimistic about their heart condition were 30 percent more likely to die during the study period. Dutch scientists found that the death rate of optimistic men is 63 percent lower than their bellyaching peers; for women, optimism reduced the death rate by 35 percent.

Turn your life around

Optimists don’t possess some magical joy juice. They’re not smiley-face romantics with their heads in the sand or looking through rose-colored glasses. They are realists, aware of the power of attitude, who take positive steps to cope with stress instead of succumbing to it. The writer Oscar Wilde said, “Between the optimist and pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist sees the hole.” In the morning, an optimist throws open the window and says, “Good morning, God” but the pessimist says, “Good God, morning.” In other words, you have a choice of how to view your life, depending upon the outlook you choose.

Think about it. Being able to see the positive side of a negative situation can arm you with the hope of overcoming obstacles you face. You can start by focusing on the silver lining in situations you automatically perceive as negative. Even when life is stressful, you can find one or two positive things to enjoy and look forward to. You can surround yourself with optimists instead of negative people who pull you down. You can pay attention to the attitude you bring to work, home or play and keep it in check.

Replace your zoom lens with a wide-angle lens

Like the zoom lens of a camera, Mother Nature prewired you to zero in on threats to protect you and help you survive. Your mind magnifies negative situations and hardships to keep you out of harm’s way. But most things are not all that threatening. Once you realize you have a choice of how to perceive and react to a challenge and that optimism is always present—even under the direst pressures—you can start to focus your mind more on the optimistic aspects of situations and build on them:

1. Ask not how life is treating you; ask how are you treating life. Pinpoint the challenge or opportunity contained in a situation you would typically look at with pessimism.

2. Empower yourself. Remember the personal resources you have at your disposal to overcome the threat and how it provides an opportunity for you to learn more about your strengths and positive qualities.

3. Take the viewpoint that mistakes and stressful situations are lessons for you to learn (open-ended curiosity), not failures for you to endure (close-ended judgment). Ask what you can learn from the stressful event so you’re more resilient next time.

4. Don’t take setbacks personally. Make a U-turn, shift your perspective, and focus on what you can do. Ask yourself: “How can I make this situation work to my advantage?” or “Can I find something optimistic about this negative situation?” or “What can I manage or overcome in this instance?”

5. Broaden your perspective when your zoom lens focuses on a hardship. Put on your wide-angle lens, pull up the big picture, and see the hardship in the context of your whole life instead of from the narrow lens that clouds out optimism.

Look for the diamond in the rough

As you broaden your outlook, you are able to see gains in your losses and beginnings contained in your endings. When you hit forty, you think of it as half a life left instead of half a life lost. When you enter a rose garden, you savor the beauty and fragrance of the flowers instead of feeling repelled by the thorns. And you discover gifts in adversity when you focus on how a seismic event can change your life for the better.

Every time you’re under pressure or feeling negative, put on your wide-angle lens and look for possibilities and opportunities. You might find it difficult at first to underscore the upside of a challenging situation. But with intention and dedicated practice, it gets easier and easier. And life gets better and longer and more meaningful. Here’s to a long, healthy, and happy life!

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