Why Positivity Matters
Optimists are healthier, wealthier, and happier. And it’s a mindset anyone can cultivate.
BY GINNY GRAVES
Given the choice between believing that good things will happen – the definition of optimism – and worrying that bad things might, you can reliably find yourself doom scrolling. Do positive thinkers get to enjoy that we usually don’t? And if a more hopeful mindset really is beneficial, can a doubter like us transform themselves into someone who expects things to turn out for the best?
The benefits of being an optimist
Optimists are more likely to achieve to live to be 85, according to a study published in 2019. To arrive at that conclusion, researchers at the Harvard University combed through data from a subset of participants in two previous long-term studies—69,744 women and 1,429 men; both measured participants’ optimism with a standard scientific questionnaire. “We controlled for a number of factors that we know can affect health, like socioeconomic status, underlying health conditions, depression, and health behaviors—and optimism was still correlated strongly with living to be 85 or older,” says Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, PhD, a research scientist at Harvard University.
The average life expectancy in the U.S. is 80, so being happy can give you an impressive boost, possibly even more than exercise. The same research found that optimists live 11-15 % longer than less optimistic people. So if a pessimist lives till 80, an optimist is likely to live till 90 or older. The more optimistic you are, the longer you live.
Why optimism is so protective:
- Optimists have lower levels of inflammation or higher levels of good cholesterol or healthier bacteria in their guts;
- People who are optimistic have more nourishing relationships, and that helps them stay healthy and live longer;
- Close social connections confer all sorts of mental and physical benefits, and optimists are probably more likely to reap them;
- Studies show that optimists have longer-lasting, deeper, and more supportive friendships, even though they don’t necessarily have more friends than less optimistic people;
- They’re better at solving problems with friends and loved ones;
- Those glass-half-fullers perceive that they’re surrounded by extremely supportive people, even if their friends and loved ones aren’t extraordinarily supportive;
- Optimists don’t just believe that good things will happen; they believe their behavior matters and that they have the ability to change things, so they’re more likely to take action and make progress toward their goals.
- They enjoy seven times higher levels of financial well-being than pessimists;
- Optimists believe they can do something to change their fortunes, and they take the necessary steps to do so.
If you self-identify as a pessimist, some good news: You’re probably more positive than you think. No matter what your age, you can train your brain to see things from a brighter perspective.