Cheer Up, You'll Live Longer

Can you find the fountain of youth in your own mind?

Can Optimism Change Your Future?
“Optimism is an expectation that good events will be more plentiful than bad events in the future,” says Christopher Peterson, Ph.D. But it’s not wishful thinking: A belief that your actions will lead to a positive event can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, says Dr. Peterson, “Optimism isn’t going to create a job, but it’s going to help you do something that might get you a job.”

Whether or not we’re born with an optimistic or pessimistic bent is another question without a definitive answer, though researchers believe genetics probably plays a role. “It remains unclear how much of our pessimism or optimism is genetically inherited,” says Dr. Rocca. “Our outlook could be due to events taking place during intrauterine life, due to events taking place in childhood and adolescence or due to events later in life.”

Even if you were born an Eeyore, says Dr. Peterson, “genetic” does not mean “immutable.” You do have the power to improve your attitude, if not wholly change it. If you want brighten up your point of view, try his suggestions:

  • Hang out with other optimistic people. We can’t choose our family, but we can choose our friends. Optimism is contagious, as is pessimism.
  • Learn to savor your triumphs. Recognize when things have gone well and quietly congratulate yourself.
  • Reframe your thinking. You can interrupt yourself when you go off on a pessimistic tangent and redirect yourself toward the positive. Just because you’re five minutes late does not make you an unlovable loser.

While it’s still unclear whether or not adopting optimistic behaviors will change your health for the better, Dr. Tindle says, “I’m optimistic about the possibility of change. People do make positive changes. They get better from depression; they quit smoking.”

Dr. Rocca agrees: “I think that people can be helped to develop a more positive attitude towards life and life events. Although some fundamental traits may be quite resistant to change, people can improve their coping skills and improve their lives a great deal.”

In a funk? Try these easy mood boosters from emotional wellness expert Gail Saltz, M.D.

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