New research suggests that people having a positive perspective on their future have a lower risk of death and major illness compared to people who have a more pessimistic outlook. A major study, published last week, followed the health of 70,000 older women over a six year period. Their average age was about seventy years old. The womens' level of optimism was measured by a questionnaire that asked how much they agreed with statements such as, “I’m always optimistic about my future”. Amazingly, the women scoring most highly for optimism had a whopping thirty percent reduced chance of dying over the six years compared to more pessimistic women. They also had less risk of developing heart disease, cancer, stroke and infection.
How do optimists have better health? We don’t really know, although optimists seem to be better at looking after themselves and have healthier lifestyles. They also have better social networks (because they are more ‘positive’ to be around), and, because they get less stressed, they have less inflammation in their bodies.
Can we teach people how to be more optimistic? Some techniques do seem to improve optimism in the short term. So, writing about how you see the best version of yourself in the future, in relation to your work, your health and relationships, appears to increase one’s positive outlook. Also, reflecting on three things that went well during the previous day can be a big positivity booster. Finally, we all experience day to day stress, such as disagreements, disappointments and frustrations. But the manner in which we deal with these events is also important. Maintaining a calm and positive mental attitude in the midst of these mini-crises, rather than flying off the handle, will also protect our health over the long term.
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