Life

How optimism can help you live longer (and why negativity may do the opposite)

Posted by
Chloe Gray
Published

Good news for positive people, as optimism has been proven to help you live longer

When you consider the current state of our world, it’s hard to be an optimist: the Amazon rainforest is on fire, the right to our own bodies is still being questioned and hate crime is on the rise.

But making an effort to remain positive, no matter what life throws at you, may have more benefits than you might think. Because, as well as helping reduce stress, looking on the bright side of life will actually help you live longer, too. Well, that’s according to new research from Boston University School of Medicine that found optimists have an 11-15% longer lifespan and 50-70% greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic groups.

In contrast, previous studies have found that negative emotions, including anger and hatred, can have a poor impact on your health including increasing your risk of heart attack,

You may also like

This 100-year-old basketball-loving nun has the secret to a long and happy life

The study defined optimism as “a psychological attribute characterised as the general expectation that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be favourable because one can control important outcomes”. With this in mind, optimism seems to differ from happiness, as being optimistic about events or situations is an act we choose to make.

And although the study didn’t give reasons as to why optimism increases lifespan, this idea of control and influence may be key. “Initial evidence from other studies suggests that more optimistic people tend to have goals and the confidence to reach them, are more effective in problem-solving, and they may be better at regulating their emotions during stressful situations,” said senior author of the research Laura Kubzansky. 

Optimism can help manage emotions

The study, based on 69,744 women who were studied for 10 years and 1,429 men who were studied for 30 years, took into account exercise, diet, smoking and alcohol consumption to find that optimism can out-beat poor health. And, fittingly, it’s also one of the few studies that looks for benefits rather than risks: “While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging,” explained corresponding author Lewina Lee. 

How to be more positive

“Interestingly, optimism may be modifiable using relatively simple techniques or therapies,” adds Lee. So, if you want to live longer but are struggling to be a glass-half-full kinda person, try these small steps to help you find more joy:

You may also like

The very millennial problem of errand paralysis

Exercise 

We know, we know. You’re busy. But finding time in your week to get your heart rate up will help you be happier. Studies show that people who don’t exercise are at 75% higher risk of developing depression than those who exercise regularly. And the post-workout endorphins (and burger-destroying appetite) are so worth it. 

Disconnect

That bummed out feeling after wasting half a day scrolling isn’t going to help you feel better about your world. Neither is the comparing of careers, social lives and bodies we do during even a quick glance at social media. Studies have even found a direct link between the amount of time spent on screens and a lack of happiness in young people. Stop. Set a time limit on apps, Marie Kondo your feed and even try a digital detox for a few days.

Read Stylist’s Good News Report

It’s important to keep on top of current affairs. But sometimes, when all you hear about is Brexit, Trump and Piers Morgan, the world can seem awful. That’s why we publish The Good News Report, filled to the brim with heart-warming stories that didn’t make the front page of the newspapers.

Get it off your chest

A problem shared is a problem halved. That doesn’t mean coughing up for a full therapy session; finding a friend to brush your worries away is just as cathartic.

Do something

Worried about the climate crisis? Donate some money to your favourite environmental company or reduce your plastic usage. Scared about the rise of sexism, racism or xenophobia? Go to a protest. Acting on your fears, rather than letting them stew, will make you feel better about the world

Images: Getty