How optimists live longer and three tips for joining their cheerful ranks

‘We are all I the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’

Oscar Wilde

Star-gazing like Oscar, pondering ‘what if…’, dreaming of your possibilities… they’re all excellent signs of longevity, according to research recently released by Harvard School of Public Health, whose study reports that optimists live longer. Considerably longer.

The project has concluded that optimists live a whole 11-15 per cent longer and are 50 to 70 per cent more likely to reach 85 years old. 

Defining optimism as ‘a general expectation that good things will happen, or believing the future will be favourable because we can control important outcomes,’ the survey followed 69,744 women for 10 years and 1,429 men for 30 years. The research subjects were surveyed on their levels of optimism as well as health habits.

According to the researchers: ‘The results were maintained after accounting for age, demographic factors such as educational attainment, chronic diseases, depression and also health behaviours, such as alcohol use, exercise, diet and primary care visits.’

This suggests that if we sally forth with a firm conviction that we can live long, fulfilling lives it is far more likely to be so.

We will, of course, be living our lives with that expectation. Planning for our future, living engaged, active lives that nurture our health, mind and inner world. So, yes, optimists are more likely to eat their vegetables, avoid existing on junk food, get plenty of rest, exercise and everything else we know is good for our physical and mental health.

But, of course, every life is touched with trauma, loss and major illnesses are not necessary a result of life-style choices. So could optimism play a role when life plays rough?

The Harvard research group says there’s much more study to be done, but it appears that optimism helps us bounce back faster, because the belief of a fulfilling future supports recovery in the now.

And that is interesting; if optimism can be built as a mental health muscle, then living and loving longer is achievable. Change your mindset and you’ll live longer.

Not sure how optimistic you are?

Take a test! The Life Orientation Test is just 10 questions which helps you assess just how optimistic you are.

Three tips for building your optimism muscles

Deal with your issues
If you’re troubled by past events, get help letting them go if you’re struggling. Holding on to resentment may feel ‘just and fair’, but think about how that feels in your body when you replay those moments. You’ll be happier in the long run when you’re free of their weight on your shoulders. Forgiveness is not for them, it’s for you. It frees you. Their guilt is theirs. Not yours.

2. Work on your mindset
From inspiring biographies to life coach gurus, there are more books than you can poke a stick at out there, all aiming to inspire you to live well and let go of what isn’t in your power to change. Look for what resonates with you, because everyone comes to building optimism from a different place and a different background.

3. Meditate
There is scientific evidence that mindfulness-based therapy can help you shift from a ‘rainy day’ to a ‘sunny day’ person. And, according to experimental psychologist, Elaine Fox, that’s basically learning to meditate. It takes time and it takes effort, but it does work, according to Elaine who has conduced research with pessimistic students and measured their brain states.

So are you an optimist?
How did you score on the optimism test? I came out at 23, which to me suggests I have room for improvement and to you should reveal my over-achieving is a work in progress. But then, isn’t everything?