Want to Live Longer? Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Beth Stebner
A new study shows that looking on the bright side can help you stay disease-free and live a longer life. (Photo: Getty Images)
A new study shows that looking on the bright side can help you stay disease-free and live a longer life. (Photo: Getty Images)

It seems simple and maybe even a little starry-eyed to believe that by simply looking on the bright side of life, you can extend it. But optimism isn’t just some quixotic dream or snake oil that overtly cheerful people sell. There’s science behind it — and it can do a lot more than boost your mood, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that women with a sunny outlook were at a significantly lower risk of dying from a host of diseases like cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, and infection.

“Our healthcare system is focused on disease and risk reduction, but not a lot is known about resilience factors to uniquely enhance health,” Eric Kim, PhD, research fellow in the department of social and behavioral sciences and co-lead author of the study, tells Yahoo Beauty. “But optimism might be one of the indicators.”

And while previous studies have shown a direct link between optimism and a reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, Kim says it was surprising to find that having a positive outlook is pretty systemic and can help protect women from so many other deadly conditions.

It’s possible, Kim notes, that optimism has a direct effect on how healthy our bodies are, with having a healthy outlook on life being linked to lower lipid levels, less inflammation, and higher antioxidant levels.

Kim, along with postdoctoral fellow and study co-author Kaitlin Hagan, analyzed data on more than 70,000 elderly women (with an average age of 70) that was collected between 2004 and 2012 by the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-running program that tracks women’s health and lifestyle behaviors. Surprisingly, they found that healthy behaviors, such as eating well and getting enough exercise, only partially explain longevity. The researchers cross-referenced these findings with information from the National Death Index, state records, and input from family members to find out if their cause of death was somehow connected to their levels of optimism.

So what can we take away from the study results?

For starters, Hagan tells Yahoo Beauty, gratitude goes a long way. “Try writing down three things you’re grateful for, whether that’s people, relationships, or activities you love,” she suggests. Mindfulness meditation, certain kinds of cognitive behavioral therapy, and hope therapy are also helpful ways to boost your optimism.

“It’s kind of like exercise,” Kim says. “If you’re trying to lose weight, then you really have to put in hard work.”

The researchers hope their study inspires further change in the health care industry to improve the lives of patients. “I think of optimism as one of the tools that we can use to achieve better health,” Hagan says.

In other words, focusing on the bright side is an

It seems simple and maybe even a little starry-eyed to believe that by simply looking on the bright side of life, you can extend it. But optimism isn’t just some quixotic dream or snake oil that overtly cheerful people sell. There’s science behind it — and it can do a lot more than boost your mood, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that women with a sunny outlook were at a significantly lower risk of dying from a host of diseases like cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, and infection.

“Our healthcare system is focused on disease and risk reduction, but not a lot is known about resilience factors to uniquely enhance health,” Eric Kim, PhD, research fellow in the department of social and behavioral sciences and co-lead author of the study, tells Yahoo Beauty. “But optimism might be one of the indicators.”

And while previous studies have shown a direct link between optimism and a reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, Kim says it was surprising to find that having a positive outlook is pretty systemic and can help protect women from so many other deadly conditions.

It’s possible, Kim notes, that optimism has a direct effect on how healthy our bodies are, with having a healthy outlook on life being linked to lower lipid levels, less inflammation, and higher antioxidant levels.

Kim, along with postdoctoral fellow and study co-author Kaitlin Hagan, analyzed data on more than 70,000 elderly women (with an average age of 70) that was collected between 2004 and 2012 by the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-running program that tracks women’s health and lifestyle behaviors. Surprisingly, they found that healthy behaviors, such as eating well and getting enough exercise, only partially explain longevity. The researchers cross-referenced these findings with information from the National Death Index, state records, and input from family members to find out if their cause of death was somehow connected to their levels of optimism.

So what can we take away from the study results?

For starters, Hagan tells Yahoo Beauty, gratitude goes a long way. “Try writing down three things you’re grateful for, whether that’s people, relationships, or activities you love,” she suggests. Mindfulness meditation, certain kinds of cognitive behavioral therapy, and hope therapy are also helpful ways to boost your optimism.

“It’s kind of like exercise,” Kim says. “If you’re trying to lose weight, then you really have to put in hard work.”

The researchers hope their study inspires further change in the healthcare industry to improve the lives of patients. “I think of optimism as one of the tools that we can use to achieve better health,” Hagan says.

In other words, focusing on the bright side is an excellent way to increase your chances of living not only better but longer.

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