Optimistic People Live Longer

by | Aug 11, 2023

Are you an optimist? If so, good for you. In addition to the positive emotion optimism brings, there are some nice benefits to being an optimist, including:

And being optimistic is associated with living longer. An interesting study demonstrating the longevity benefits of optimism examined photographs of 230 professional baseball players from 1952 (think baseball card pictures). Each player’s smile was rated as being a sincere smile (or Duchenne Smile), a partial smile, or no smile. The results? The intensity of the smile predicted the player’s average age of death:

Type of SmileAverage Age At Death
No smile73 Years
Partial Smile75 Years
Duchenne Smile80 Years

The conclusion that optimism and longevity go hand-in-hand is buttressed by a meta-study of 83 studies of optimism and physical health found that optimism was related to lower all-cause mortality and overall better health outcomes.

So optimism is the bee’s knees. But what to do if you are pessimistic by nature? Can optimism be learned?

Probably.

Here are four things to try to be more optimistic:

  1. Visualize your best possible self. Spend time each week visualizing what you want your life to be like in the future and write it down.
  2. Accept the inevitability of disappointment. A key aspect of being optimistic is realizing that bad things happen and shaking them off.
  3. Argue against yourself. Martin Seligman, a pioneer in positive psychology says that when you enter a pessimism spiral of negative thoughts think of those thoughts as coming from “an external person whose mission in life is to make you miserable” and argue against it.
  4. Put things in perspective. When you have negative thoughts about the future try to intentionally counteract them with extremely positive ones.

All these things are easier said than done. Want to learn how to be more optimistic? You may want to start with Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.

Another thing to try: smile more! We often smile when happy. The converse can also be true: smiling can increase our happiness and can reduce stress. Try it – force a smile right now. Notice how you feel. Great quote to this effect: “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

I hope you have a good weekend.

2 Comments

  1. Good article and good reminder to smile more! 🙂 Do you think that optimism is ever not helpful? It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. My friend told me about the term “toxic positivity” which I found ironic. For example in a company, household or person when it’s used to harp on good things and ignore dysfunctional things that may be going on rather than addressing them.

    Reply
  2. My 5th grade teacher, who I adored, had a sign that read, “smile, it improves your face value”. How true!

    Reply

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