According to a recent article in Mayo Clinic Proceeding, the difference between optimists and pessimists was about twelve years of living. The Mayo research involved examining personalities tests in the early 1960′s to a group of 800 people and then following the subjects for thirty years. This enabled the researchers to scientifically measure the relationship between attitude and longevity. Their findings clearly demonstrated that the mind and body are inseparably linked. Among their findings was the fact that pessimists had a 19 percent greater risk of death for any given year than the average person, let alone the optimist.
In another study on aging and optimism conducted in Oxford, Ohio, the results showed that people with a positive attitude lived 7.5 years longer than people with negative attitudes. This study involved 660 people age 50+. The study examined attitudes toward aging. Subjects were asked if they agreed or disagreed with a wide range of questions related to positive versus negative thinking. The results showed significant difference in longevity between the two groups.
If being positive is so good for us why isn’t everyone an optimist? Are we genetically wired to be one or the other? Or, is our attitude a reflection of our environment and upbringing? In reality it’s probably both. Some people are probably more naturally optimistic, while others are naturally more pessimistic. However, whatever your hereditary or environmental predisposition is remember. we all have choices. If your thinking leads to poor health, one of those choices is to change. One of our greatest assets is that we are all blessed with the ability to change and adapt.
Every setback, every problem, and every challenge in life offers us options on how to perceive and respond to it. The key is not the problem or challenge but rather how we respond to it.
Martin Seligman author of Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind And Your Life: “The optimistic individual makes the most of his talent….The optimistic individual perseveres.”
So, what separates optimistic people from more pessimistic people? Seligman says it’s the way we explain events and outcomes to ourselves. If something good happens to us, how do we explain it? Was it luck? Or was it the result of our talent?
How do we explain the bad things that happen to us? Is it that conditions just weren’t right? Or did the bad event happen because we’re somehow horribly flawed as individuals? Will this flaw follow us around like a black cloud the rest of our lives?
After extensive research, Seligman concludes that optimists and pessimists attribute the reasons for success and failure differently. Pessimists tend to attribute failure and bad events to permanent, personal, and pervasive factors. Optimists tend to attribute bad events to non-personal, non-permanent, and non-pervasive factors. They also do this for good events.
“Permanent” is defined by Seligman means factors that will be with you throughout life. “Personal” factors are those that relate to us as individuals. Seligman describes “pervasive,” as factors that affect our efficacy in other parts of our life.
Seligman writes: “Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope. . Finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune is the practice of despair.”
A while back I fell off a ladder and broke both my wrists. For several months I couldn’t work, couldn’t drive and was dependent on others to care for me while I went through a period of physical rehabilitation that seemed to last forever. I could have become depressed and cursed my bad luck. Instead I chose to embrace the opportunity it gave me to learn how to accept help graciously from others. Since I had been self-reliant all my life, this was a capability that didn’t come easy. After a short time I learned that as I released the old belief that “I must do everything myself”, it became easier to embrace the belief that, “It’s okay to let others help”. By letting go of my old beliefs I became amazed at the outflow of assistance I received and how I grew as a person as I received it. Those months of rehab could have been the worst days of my life. Instead they were a period of great learning and fortification of my own resilience.
If you’re on the fence on this subject, consider these observations of the obvious:
. People who believe they can’t – don’t!
. People who believe it’s impossible – never succeed!
. People who believe they can’t win — lose!
. People who believe life isn’t worth living – die!
As I said, the choice is yours. You can live a longer and happier life or a shorter and unhappy one. All you need to do is be positive. This doesn’t mean you should become what Seligman describes as relentlessly optimistic and ignore the realities you face. It means understanding the realities and then approaching life in a positive manner. I observed this first hand when a close friend of mine was informed that there were no more treatment options available for his cancer. He was told he had 3-12 months to live. He and his family chose to focus on the 3-12 months he had to live and filled and not the eventual outcome. They filled the time with appreciation, joy, love and life. He’s still alive and loving life. one day at a time.
Here are a few tips for developing a more positive outlook on life:
1. Find a role model and learn how they react to life’s issues.
2. Associate with positive people.
3. Stop spending time with negative people.
4. Become aware of when you are thinking positive. When you do, reflect on the situation and identify other situations (either in the past or future) where this approach would be an asset.
5. Practice being positive. Select situations where you can prepare positive responses. Remember practice makes permanent – not perfect.
6. Catch yourself when you are thinking negatively. Examine your thought process and ask yourself if there might be a different, more positive response to the situation.
Remember, nobody is 100% positive or negative all the time. The key is to increase the percentage of time you spend being positive. The more you do it, the easier it will become. Your reward may or may not be a longer life. But it most certainly will be a happier one!
Author: philfaris1This author has published 3 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.