Lots and lots of optimists live lots longer than lots and lots of pessimists. Those are the stats. Those are the facts. But why? By minimising stress.
We knew the first bit anyway. Numerous vast, decades-long research studies have provided ample evidence of this (at first sight bizarre) fact: an optimistic state of mind tends to add not just months but years to your life. And not years of frailty and misery but healthy years.
What’s the magic ingredient of optimism?
Is it this—the confidence to reach out to people? An active social life is key to a long happy life, after all.
Or this? We know that exercise is crucial for a long, healthy life. And optimism about old age would be a very good reason for exercising. And for numerous other positive lifestyle habits—you know what they are.
One actual cause (as opposed to correlation): stress
An interesting new research result suggests that optimists don’t necessarily recover from stressful events any faster than others. Rather they actually don’t experience as much stress as others. That means the optimist’s body and brain have an easier life and probably a longer one, right?
- Maybe optimists avoid stressful situations
- Maybe they are easy to get along with, which creates less conflict
- Maybe they just don’t perceive so many things as stressful
- Maybe they notice stress and minimise it
- Maybe optimists build up skills for managing stress, learning from experience.
To understand these new findings, read
- this article in the Guardian: Reasons to be cheerful…
- or the complete original research paper in Journals of Gerontology: Optimism, Daily Stressors, and Emotional Wellbeing over Two Decades in a cohort of Aging Men
It was a small study of men only so no doubt you’ll have questions like, “But what about—?”
I’m interested in the practical application of this knowledge, because it is possible to lower our stress levels and obviously it’s worth doing. Apart from the long-term health and longevity benefits, life with less stress becomes more easy, surely, and even more fun?
Or don’t you like fun? (That’s a serious question. Some people choose to be stressed. They would rather be cross than solve the problem. I know, I used to live with one. And that’s how it goes: people like what they like and you can’t make them like what you like.)
One teeny tiny way to start reducing stress
Here’s a practical application of these findings.
- Think of one teeny tiny little thing that always annoys you, day after day.
- Decide to react in a different way. Instead of swearing or groaning or kicking the cat, you could raise your eyebrows. Or say Whoopsie! Or take a deep breath. Or—dare I say it?—laugh. Up to you!
- Or (sometimes) you can find a way to stop that thing ever happening again.
“Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff.” Hang on, that’s wrong. Let’s ask Ursula for her advice about optimism, stress, longevity and health.Follow Write Into Life