If we want to live longer, there is one small trick that all of us have within our grasp: being more optimistic. This has been demonstrated by the Mayo Clinic, one of the most prestigious in the United States, after a study carried out with 839 patients. Those who were classified as optimistic lived on average 20% longer than those deemed to be pessimists; what’s more, they had a better quality of life, too… not a bad promotional message for an internal anti-ageing cream.
Now, you may think that optimism is determined by our genes, and that if we’ve grown up in a pessimistic family there’s little that we can do about it. If you do think that, I’m afraid that you’re wrong. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, studied optimism for several decades. He has come to the conclusion that pessimism can be attributed to hereditary factors only 25% of the time… which means that 75% of the time it’s down to us! So, there aren’t really any excuses for not trying to do something about it.
The optimist has a kinder vision of reality, and finds opportunities even in difficult times. He (or she) also has a clearly defined method of dealing with trying situations. Seligman analysed this method and boiled it down to two key points. Let’s have a look at what he found out…
Think about something that you’re good at, such as writing a report, doing a specific exercise or cooking a particular dish. If you think that you usually do this well and that it basically depends on the effort which you put into the task, you have an optimistic attitude. However, if you tend to explain your skill as a fluke or as a one-off piece of luck, you are more pessimistic in your thinking.
Now think about something which you have done that didn’t turn out very well. If you think that this wasn’t due to any underlying inability on your part and that in the future you will be able to do better, you fall into the optimistic camp. For example, you might say to yourself, ‘I’m having a really bad day’; you don’t think that you’re always like that. However, a pessimist thinks in the opposite way. He has the impression that things normally turn out badly and might say: ‘why do the worst things always have to happen to me?’(an expression, incidentally, which is very common in Spain).
So, how we interpret our reality, our successes and our failures, will lead us either to take refuge in pessimism or to be more optimistic and, as a result, to live longer and be happier. It’s worth thinking about…
- Pay attention to what you say to yourself when things don’t turn out as you would have liked. Do you think that this is something that normally happens or do you think that it’s the result of a situation that you can change? If you are closer to the second way of thinking, you are well on the way to having an optimistic outlook.
- If you tend to be negative because you think that bad things always happen to you, have a debate with yourself and rebut your negative points of view. All of us have reasons to feel satisfied and all our experiences are opportunities for learning. If you’ve made a bad job of something, do you really think that this always happens? Aren’t you doing other things well? How can you do better in the future? Think of arguments that are so strong that they don’t let your pessimism get a word in edgeways. In addition, ask friends and family to give you a kinder vision of your own reality.
- Repeat optimistic thoughts. Optimism is a habit that needs to be practised frequently. The more we train it, the more likely it is that we will make it part of ourselves and that it will become second nature in the future.
The optimist tends to think that positive things are permanent while negative ones are passing and can be prevented in the future through determined action.
TO LISTEN TO: