Smile. Optimism is a key to living longer. Here’s what, why and how.


Want to live longer? Then the answer is to look on the bright side of life. That’s what recent research tells us – with those seeing life through optimistic eyes more likely to reach 85 and beyond.

The news is even better than that – as I’ll explain. But first let’s nail that good news about living longer.

It’s from a study at Boston University School of Medicine based on two previous long-term research projects. In each, the participants – average age 70 for women and 62 for men – had been assessed for their levels of optimism. The results speak for themselves.

  • Among women, the most optimistic had lifespans almost 15 per cent longer than the least optimistic.
  • Among men, the most optimistic had lifespans almost 11 per cent longer.

As I said, the news is even better than that. It’s not just that having an upbeat attitude can give us extra years. It’s also that those years are likely to be more healthy ones – physically and mentally.

Indeed, psychologists and researchers tell us –

  • Optimistic people tend to suffer fewer problems with depression.
  • Optimistic people seem to develop fewer physical illnesses.
  • Optimistic people overcome setbacks and keep motivated towards achievement.

What all this makes clear is that how we see life and act on that belief has a profound impact on what happens to us. And there’s much more to optimism than a man keeping his car running while his wife goes shopping.

Optimism covers a whole way at viewing life and acting on that view. Suzanne C Segerstrom, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, explains that optimism is ‘a combination of beliefs and also behaviours reflecting that belief.’

She says, ‘Where a pessimist may respond to obstacles by withdrawing and underachieving, an optimist responds by formulating goals, planning and engaging with the issue.’

This is one of the reasons those behind the Boston study see their discovery as so important. To quote Lewina Lee who led it, ‘Our findings raise an exciting possibility that we may be able to promote healthy and resilient ageing by cultivating psychosocial assets such as optimism.’

Did you get that? A way to ‘promote healthy and resilient aging’ is by ‘cultivating optimism’.

This is underlined by health psychology expert Dr Catherine Hurt of University of London. She says the Boston study ‘suggest as well as educating and encouraging people to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly we should also be promoting psychological wellbeing and the importance of optimism.’

Can we do that for ourselves? It’s true that some are naturally glass-half-empty people. But rather than finding danger in every opportunity can we start looking for opportunity in every danger? Instead of finding problems, go looking for solutions? Aim to have high expectations rather than low ones?

It’s true that some people seem to be born optimistic. Yet, ’Anyone can learn to be optimistic – the trick is to find purpose in work and life,’ says Leah Weiss, a Stanford professor specializing in mindfulness in the workplace.

She adds, ‘When we work with purpose or live with purpose, we feel more fulfilled and better equipped to see the glass half full.’

It’s also possible to train your brain to think more optimistically. And here are 8 tips to do so –

  1. Aim to see things through a positive lens – looking for the good rather than the bad.
  2. Focus on solutions, not on problems – not easy but try.
  3. Give the news a miss – after all, how seldom does the media report good news?
  4. Seek the company of optimistic people – and let their attitude rub off.
  5. Face up to what you can and can’t control – and don’t stress over what is not in your hands.
  6. Don’t dwell on past failings or disappointments – what’s done is done and it doesn’t always mean the same will happen.
  7. Keep a note – at the end of the day, jot down those things that went well.
  8. Be realistic – accept the negative as part of life but not as the whole story.

But ultimately, there is an even bigger picture than all this. A reason to be optimistic above all others and perfectly expressed in the Bible’s book of Lamentations ‘Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’ – Lamentations 3:21–23.

Want to live a little longer and healthier and happier? Then it’s time for a song. Please join me, ‘Always look on the bright side of life – de-dum, de-dum, de-dum.’

Do you have a way to keep optimistic? Please tell all either here or on the AfterWorkNet Facebook community

Peter Meadows

Peter is AfterWorkNet’s super optimistic Programme Director. He’s using his retirement to help churches, resource inter-church initiatives, and escapes to Spain when he can.

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife