#044 How to Be an Optimist and Live 8 Years Longer

How to Be an Optimist

As a cardiologist I have treated thousands and thousands of patients with heart failure, heart attacks, and life-threatening arrhythmias.  I am always amazed at how my most positive or optimistic patients somehow seem to get better, whereas those who are negative or pessimistic seem to get worse.

How can you adopt a more positive outlook to enjoy being healthier and living longer?

In this article, I’ll share with you the important relationship between mindset and health and give you six steps on how to be an optimist.

My Struggle with Negativity and Pessimism

In general, I have always been a positive person.  However, as one medical condition after the next cropped up around age 40, I started losing hope.

I felt great despair at age 44, as I could no longer exercise due to chronic fatigue and severe joint, back, and neck pain.   When I lost my ability to exercise, especially out in nature, a sense of gloom and doom settled in.

In this mindset, things just seemed to be getting worse day by day.  I had lost all hope and felt that my health would just continue to decline until I died.

Optimism in China’s Longevity Village

Fortunately I was shown another possibility when I met the China Longevity Village centenarians.

Every centenarian we interviewed told us that they were living the best years of their lives.  Those that were not yet 100 longed to live in such a way as to achieve this milestone.  Despite the health challenges that come with age, they were grateful, happy, and optimistic people.

Inspired by these people, I returned home and began making changes.  As I did so, I felt better, turning my despair about the years ahead into optimism. And, now this optimism continues to fuel the pivotal lifestyle decisions I make each day.

The Nun Study

Recent studies, such as the “Nun Study,” shed light on the connection between mindset, health and longevity.

In this study, researchers evaluated the diaries of 180 Catholic Nuns born before 1917, written at about age 22.  At age 22, most of these nuns were likely in good health and had their whole lives ahead of them.

When researchers evaluated these diaries they found that those who recorded positive or optimistic thoughts in their diaries lived 2.5 times longer than those who recorded negative or pessimistic thoughts.

How we think at even a very young age can determine our health and longevity over the rest of our lives!

Optimists Are Protected from the Common Cold

Other benefits to optimists include protection from common illnesses such as the cold.

In a study from Carnegie Mellon University, researchers took 193 healthy volunteers and exposed them to two different viruses.

After participants were exposed to these viruses they were then quarantined and watched to see who would get sick. This definitely does not sound like the kind of study that I would sign up for!

Interestingly, those volunteers who did not feel good about themselves or their prospects were more than twice as likely to get sick when they were exposed to the common cold or flu virus.  Not only were the positive people less likely to get sick but they also had much less mucous production as well.

Embrace the Aging Process and Live Eight Years Longer

In a study of 660 people, researchers from Yale and Miami University looked at how people viewed the aging process.  Interestingly, those people who embraced the aging process and were confident that life would get better with time lived 8 years longer than those who were pessimistic about their own future.

Even though health challenges may arise in the future, it is possible, even necessary, to embrace the aging process and find meaning in everything, including the challenges.

I encourage my patients, telling them that I am going to help keep them alive to age 100.  Nine times out of ten, they respond with something like “I hope I die before I get to 100.”  They see increasingly poor health and disabilities in their future. They have more power than they realize to turn things around, both in mindset and in lifestyle.

My goal is to teach my patients and others how to turn it around  from “growing old is no fun” and “the golden years aren’t so golden,” to “this is the best time in my life and it just keeps getting better.”

How to Be an Optimist in Six Steps

How can you experience the proven health and happiness benefits that come with optimism?  Let me give you my six suggestions on how to be an optimist.

1. Be grateful.

Focus on what you have rather than on what you think you lack.  If you can make it a habit to write down or say out loud what you are grateful for each day it can completely change your perspective. For two years now, my wife, Jane, has kept a daily gratitude journal.  She lists each member of her family and writes a specific reason that she is grateful for that person on that day.

2. Minimize time with negative people.

It has often been said that you are the product of the five people you spend the most time with.  If you spend time with negative, complaining people you will become negative or pessimistic yourself.  Find positive and uplifting people and spend more time with them. Seek out and collaborate with people who are striving to reach goals similar to your own.

3. Spend at least 20-30 minutes outside each day

Feeling the sun and spending time outside or in nature changes our whole perspective on life.  Spending time in nature increases your “feel good” hormones which, in turn, increases your positive outlook on life. For me, being outside daily is critical not only for my physical health, but also my mental well-being.

4. Daily Physical Activity

As with spending time outside every day, daily physical activity also increases our feel good hormones.  Exercise also allows our bodies to feel better and when we feel better we tend to have a more positive outlook on life. I find some way to get physical activity daily.  If my work schedule is loaded, I always find a way to do something, whether it’s working at my treadmill desk, taking the stairs, walking in between commitments, etc.

5. Get at least seven hours of blissful sleep

Have you ever noticed how bleak the world looks when you are sleep deprived?  A good night of sleep lifts our spirits and makes the whole world look a lot brighter.  Strive to get at least seven hours of restorative sleep each night. My secret to improved sleep is to commit to an early, consistent bedtime.

6. Meditate, pray, or do yoga daily

Daily meditation, prayer, or yoga brings about a mindfulness that quiets our fears and anxieties.  When we can let go of our fears and anxieties our sense of optimism increases.  Stress and anxiety are often the enemies of optimism. My best stress relievers include physical activity and nature.

What works for you? How are you developing a more optimistic outlook on life?

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Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.

6 Comments
  1. It’s so true . . . the “mind over matter” concept. This is dramatically illustrated when we look at what hypnotized people can do–things that would otherwise never be anywhere close to feasible. Remember that old saying that the bumblebee actually cannot fly, because his body weight is totally out of proportion to the area/size of his wings; however, the bumblebee doesn’t know this, so he goes ahead and lies anyway. Our minds are incredibly powerful . . . for good, OR for ill. The subconscious mind is like the powerful bulldozer, and the conscious mind is like the operator; if we’re better operators, our minds can better protect us and perform whatever needs to be done in life.

  2. Nice work. Like you I have done a lot of self study in this area. PMA is the key to living healthy. Never compare your self to other people, work your plan and never give up…..Mr C.

  3. I am doing these very things in my life now. I feel so much better and am getting more and more excited for my future! Thank you!!!!