Live Long(er) and Prosper … optimism is a learnable skill

It’s September – and your own “Back To School” feeling may be with you after a long summer break. Are you feeling optimistic – or pessimistic – about the months ahead? How are you feeling right now, as you read this? It’s good to be aware of how you feel, but don’t become a slave to your view of the future. It creates the script for what will actually occur.

Last week, a study found that optimists are more likely to live longer than those who have a more negative approach to life.Positive people were more likely to live to the age of 85 or more. The theory is that optimists may find it easier to control emotions and so be protected from the effects of stress. On average, the most optimistic men and women had an 11-15% longer lifespan.

In truth we are all both optimists and pessimists several times a day, faced with different situations. Whenever something “happens to us” we have a choice to be one or the other. What is more interesting is the way we come to our perspectives. The brain invents a “counter fact” to events – an alternate scenario our brains create to help us evaluate and make sense of what happened. It could be “Well it could have been a lot worse” or “That’s pretty unlucky” – or anything in between.

Optimism is, like so many other things, a learnable skill. Research shows that people with positive counter facts have more successful careers, relationships and, yes, live longer. For this reason alone my usual sense of optimism is deliberate and pragmatic, rather than wishful. I’ve come to realise that it makes no sense whatsoever to practise anything other than optimism.

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