Did you know optimists live longer?

“Optimists live longer,” said Dr. Bernie Siegel in a 1989 article in “Ladies Home Journal.” He went on to add, “Pessimists have a more accurate view of the world, but they don’t live longer.”
And who cares about accuracy when the alternative is a long, happy, full life?
Maybe it’s time to opt for inaccuracy. To believe the best about people even when all the signals say it’s a foolish thing to do. To see the hope when there’s no reason to hope.
To see the sunny side of life and take advantage of the exciting possibility that believing may create a happy reality.
Siegel made that bold statement 15 years ago. Since that time, research has proven him right.
One important study conducted at Yale University was reported in the August, 2002 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.
In an article entitled “Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging,” lead author Becca Levy wrote, “Our study carries two messages. The discouraging one is that negative self-perceptions can diminish life expectancy; the encouraging one is that positive self-perceptions can prolong life expectancy.”
In a nutshell, pessimism shortens life while optimism lengthens it.
The study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging, also involved Stanislav Kasl and Martin Slade of Yale and Suzanne Kunkel of Miami (Ohio) University.
It began with a 1975 survey of 50-year-old men and women, testing their attitudes about aging. Then 23 years later, the researchers examined how individuals’ responses predicted their survival.
They found that a positive attitude toward aging was the most important variable in longevity, extending life by seven-and-a-half years.
Low blood pressure and cholesterol extended life by only four years. Healthy body weight and regular exercise extended life from one-three years.
The researchers found positive people live longer—even after taking into account factors such as gender, socio-economic status, health, and loneliness.
They also found that “the will to live” and cardiovascular response to stress partially accounts for the relationship of attitude and survival. But, as important as these factors are, they do not completely account for the difference in longevity.
In her previous research, Levy also found that whether elderly people saw themselves as “wise” or “senile” made a large difference in their performance.
It makes a difference in their memory, their mathematical performance, their will to live, their cardiovascular response to stress, and their views of other older people.
It’s very important to have a positive attitude about aging as early as possible.
“Once individuals become older, they may lack the defences of other groups to ward off the impact of negative stereotypes on self-perceptions,” warned Levy.
So make an assessment of your attitude toward aging now. If it’s negative, try to turn it around as soon as possible. If it’s positive, reinforce it.
You can’t stop your aging, but you are in charge of your attitude. Don’t worry about the future; live in the present. Don’t worry about your health; just enjoy every day. Don’t “awfulize.”
And most important of all, remember that positive thinking is healthy for body, mind, and spirit. Even if you don’t live longer, you will live happier.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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