Story At A Glance

  • Optimistic people are more likely to live to the age of 85 or beyond, according to new research.
  • Although researchers aren’t exactly sure how being optimistic increases longevity, they believe optimistic people tend to have positive goals and follow healthier lifestyles to achieve those goals.
  • Anyone can become more optimistic. (Yes, even you.)

We all experience stressful times, but if you’re able to bounce back with optimism — not only will you have a more positive mindset, you could even increase your chances of living a longer life. 

Optimistic people are more likely to live to the age of 85 or beyond, according to recently released findings by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The results of the long-term study, which were presented in the science journal PNAS, suggest that optimism can help you live up to 15 percent longer than someone who is pessimistic.

“The more we know about ways to promote healthy aging, the better,” says BU clinical research psychologist Lewina Lee, who headed the study, in an interview with NPR, about the benefits of optimism.

Although researchers aren’t exactly sure how being optimistic can increase longevity, they believe optimistic people tend to have positive goals and follow healthier lifestyles to achieve those goals. On the other hand, having a more negative outlook can be potentially deadly. An increase in heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and liver disease are some of the devastating impacts associated with holding onto stress, according to Lee.

Nurse practitioner Ashley Mannell, owner of Nourish Health & Wellness in Richmond, Virginia, says when you’re overloaded with stress, “You’re releasing stress hormones and that tends to be very inflammatory for your body.”

Using stress management techniques such as meditation or yoga can improve emotional well-being, Mannell states, which can then result in improved physical health. In addition, healing the body and mind can lead people to make better life decisions (which can promote longevity), such as healthier food choices, explains Mannell. “And that’s very empowering,” she says.

If you tend to be a pessimist — don’t worry — researchers say you can train your mind to have a more hopeful and positive outlook even during life's challenging times. "If it doesn't come to you naturally, you can still learn how to think in more optimistic ways," says clinical health psychologist Natalie Dattilo of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, in an interview with NPR, about developing resiliency.

Slash Coleman, a certified Laughter Yoga Leader in Richmond, Virginia, teaches people optimism through purposeful laughter exercises. “Laughter changes the neuroplasticity of the brain. If you do this on a regular basis, you will bring more light into your life," Coleman says in an interview with Richmond magazine. "Ten minutes of deep belly laughing is like a booster shot for the immune system,” he states about the physical benefits.

It may also help to surround yourself with supportive, uplifting people to increase optimism. “The way we live these days, we’re very isolated,” says Mannell. “We just don’t have as many meaningful connections with people as we used to even though we’re all connected via technology all the time. What I’m finding in the groups I lead is people are really craving community and connection.”

Even if it's not always easy to see the bright side when things are challenging, purposefully focusing on the good with a resilient attitude can energize you to move forward, and even help add years to your life to enjoy what's wonderful in the world around you.

Published on Nov 14, 2019