Some of the first explorers to land on American shores were seeking the fountain of youth. Our quest has yet to stop. Living well for as long as possible may be very much in our control through our thoughts and actions.
How Positive Language Improves Brain Health
The adage “you bring about what you talk about” is not new. An example of this is that if you think you’re going to fail, you are more likely to. The power of optimism and positive thinking is well documented, particularly when it comes to pursuing goals. New research indicates positive language can make for a better mindset and outlook on life. This can keep our brains and bodies healthier and promote a more positive aging experience.
How A Better Attitude Makes A Longer Life
Optimism improves physical and mental health. Understanding why and when we experience optimism is crucial to cultivating it. The studies of Briley, Rudd, and Aaker show two main predictors of optimism: culture, and framing.
The researchers identified two frames, or perspectives, to approach situations with. The first perspective, called the initiator, takes the frame of “how will I act, regardless of the situations I encounter?” Second, the responder takes the frame of “how will I react to the situations I encounter?” For individualistic cultures such as America, the initiator frame led to more optimism. The opposite was true for cultures that value the interdependent self.
Action Tip: Many seniors may have a diagnosis without a ‘cure’. It is important for those seniors and their caregivers to visualize the best possible outcome. Take time to visualize what is to come by yourself or with a loved one. To gain these positive effects of optimism, imagine how you will react, no matter how things progress.
“To what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?” This is the question researchers Steptoe and Fancourt asked over 7000 people age 50+. They then looked at their “positive associations with social relationships and broader social engagement, economic prosperity, mental and physical health, biomarkers, health-related behaviors, and time use.” The results showed a positive correlation between worthwhileness and improvements in these categories.
Action Tip: Ask yourself, “To what extent do I feel the things I do in my life are worthwhile?” Answer it on a scale of 1 (not worthwhile) to 10 (very worthwhile). Then ask yourself what you could change to make the answer closer to 10. We can all take manageable steps toward increasing meaningfulness in your day-to-day. Start by defining what is meaningful to you. Then ask how you can incorporate more of that into your daily life. Maybe connections with friends make life feel worthwhile and you can make an effort to host a potluck once a week. Maybe creativity makes life feel worthwhile and you can add creating art into your daily routine.
After studying over 4,000 Singaporeans over the age of 60, researchers Chei, Lee, and Mahotra found that “happiness is associated with reduced likelihood of all-cause mortality among older people… with the benefit observed even for incremental increases in happiness.” They measured happiness in 4,000+ older people using a depression scale. The participants were then monitored for six years. For every unit of increased happiness, the likelihood of dying decreased by 9%.
Action Tip: You can take the depression scale for yourself. Use it as a guide and work to increase your happiness and lifespan. What brings you down that you can cut out of your life? Maybe a relationship or a habit? What brings you joy that you can add more of? Can you put up photos of people you love to remind you of those relationships and memories? Can you make time to participate in a lost hobby or to call a friend? Many times when we are depressed, it comes from ruminating on the past. What can you change right now to increase happiness and connectedness?
Often our culture promotes a story of aging that is all about decline and loss, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Becca Levy has dedicated her career to exploring the psychosocial influences of aging. Her research at Yale supports the correlation between positive attitudes about aging and health and life expectancy. A recent study of hers shows that having a positive view of aging throughout your lifetime increased life expectancy by 7.5 years!
Action tip: Want to get a jump start on changing your attitudes about aging and fighting ageism? Check out OldSchool.info, a clearinghouse of vetted anti-ageism resources.
This key to a long life is accessible to us all. By changing our attitudes and actions we can extend our lifespans and health-spans. Start small and start today. Make little shifts to increase optimism, find meaning, nurture happiness and embrace aging.
Cultivating Optimism: How to Frame Your Future during a Health Challenge
Leading a meaningful life at older ages and its relationship with social engagement, prosperity, health, biology, and time use
Happy older people live longer.
Professor of Public Health (Social and Behavioral Sciences) and Psychology