By Kathy Megyeri
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficuLTY.”WINSTON CHURCHILL
My two best friends, the same age, live in assisted living in Ft. Myers, FL. One is having a difficult time seeing any good in these trying times of COVID between mask wearing and social distancing. The other relishes her alone time, reading, sipping her glass of rosé each evening, talking with friends on the phone and planning the dinner menu that will be delivered to her door each evening at 5 o’clock. What makes them so different?
Studies on attitude or one’s perspective show that one’s longevity is definitely affected. The Journal Archives of Internal Medicine studied 2,800 heart patients and reported that those optimistic about their heart disease were more likely to live 15 years longer than those who were pessimistic as they were 30 percent more likely to die during the study.
In 2019, a Boston University study tracked 69,744 women for ten years and 1,429 men for thirty years. The most optimistic men and women lived an 11 to 15 percent longer lifespan and had far greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to their pessimist counterparts. The optimists had healthier habits, lower stress levels, more stable cardiovascular systems and stronger immune systems. They were happier, had fewer health complaints, better relationships and lived an average of seven and a half years longer.
Nobel Prize scientist Elizabeth Blackburn and health psychologist Elissa Epel researched destructive thoughts that damage one’s telomeres, the protective tips at the end of chromosomes. Pessimism was one of five types of toxic thought patterns that shorten the lifespan and created shorter telomeres which indicates a shorter life span.
However, just being an optimist doesn’t extend life expectancy, and optimism and pessimism are not always direct opposites. Just last week, the Berghofer Medical Research institute in Australia found that one should be more mindful of one’s outlook and look at the roses instead of the thorns since optimists usually climb the ladder to success faster.
Sales personnel with optimistic outlooks sold 37 percent more life insurance in their first two years than pessimists. Optimists had lower stress levels, a more stable cardiovascular system than average and a better immune system. They lived an average of seven and a half years longer, were happier, had fewer health complaints and healthier relationships.
Pessimists focused on difficulties, what goes wrong, disappointments and their narrow focus built up blind spots of negativity.
How can I improve my attitude?
Changing one’s outlook is an instantaneous attitude fix. Optimism expands one’s perspective and unlocks personal resources to see potential and opportunity, no matter the hardship. One needs that wide-angle lens to look at the big picture instead of the zoom-lens. Researcher Barbara Frederickson of the University of North Carolina shows that enlarged perspectives allow one to see more possibilities and to have more positive emotions and gratitude for life’s joys. The positive outlook creates a different biochemical response in optimists versus pessimists that contributes to longevity. Focusing on the upside of situations allows one to see possibilities and empowers one to surmount obstacles, find peace of mind and gratefulness and possibly even solve the issue faster.
I personally can’t preach enough about keeping a gratitude journal so I give one to people at every opportunity. I also post my favorite quote from Henry David Thoreau over my bathroom mirror to read each morning. It says, “If you want to be happy, be.” It’s my little attempt to stay optimistic and maybe live a bit longer.