It’s long been a truism of scientific research that optimists – people with a hopeful and positive outlook on life – are healthier, happier, and live longer.
However, a recent study takes this finding one step further, stating that optimists not only enjoy an 11-to-15% longer life span on average, but also have far greater odds of achieving “exceptional longevity,” defined as living to the age of 85 or more.
Your first thought might be “Sounds nice,” closely followed by, “But who can be an optimist in this crazy chaotic world of ours?” Indeed. It would appear to be virtually impossible. But here’s the thing. Optimism isn’t an all-or-nothing condition.
You’re not automatically a pessimist if you don’t feel particularly optimistic. Although some people may be born more optimistic than others, the good news is that optimism can be developed. It’s actually a lot less challenging than you might think.
Yes, even in our upside-down world. Yes, even in the midst of a pandemic, erratic climate changes, and turbulent socio-political times.
I’m reminded of a theatre game we used to play, back when I was taking improv classes, called “Three Things!” We stood on stage in a circle, all of us shouted “Three Things!” whereupon one player would name a category.
The player standing next to them had to call out three things that fit that category and do so at the speed of light. It would then be that player’s turn to name a category for the next player to fill. Of course, the idea was to stump each other with ridiculous and/or obviously challenging categories.
So, categories like “Events on Mars!” “Names of Famous Dinosaurs!” “Colors of 1990 Football Jerseys!” made for hilarity, as realism was not required. If anything, coming up with clever responses at warp-speed was the true measure of success.
How might this game help develop optimism? By naming three things you like about anything and everything that crosses your path during your day. In this case, things you genuinely like, since you’re looking to increase your optimism, not get more laughs.
For example, the water glass on the desk in front of me. Three things! I like the shape of the glass, how the light strikes it, and having water handy.
Or the leaf-blower the gardener is using. Three things! Now this is more difficult given that I don’t like noise, and the leaf-blower is an instant noise-generator.
But the three things I like about the leaf-blower are: It cleans off my patio. The gardener only turns it on for 10 minutes. The silence I appreciate doubly when he turns it off.
How about the more serious events of life? My best friend’s brother-in-law just died unexpectedly of a heart attack. What could I possibly like about that event? Not the event itself, that would be grim. But how about what I could like, given the situation.
All right, so “Three Things!” One, I like that I can be here to support my friend in her grief. Two, I like that, as awful as it was for her brother-in-law to pass so suddenly, there is the comfort of him not having suffered a long debilitating illness.
Finally, I like that my friend and her husband have a solid and loving marriage, which will help them both through this time.
Of course, it’s much easier to find three things to like about a meal, your pet, or a fine sunny day. But the more you train your mind to explore things to like about anything and everything – that pesky co-worker, your partner’s opinions, your health concerns – the more you increase your optimistic quotient, and with that, your chances of a happy, healthy, “exceptionally long-lived” life.
Take Nana Jo Morrow, for example. For the past 20 years, Nana Jo has been volunteering at an elementary school in Oregon, helping children learn to read, write, and spell. This, despite the fact that Nana Jo is blind in one eye.
Nana Joe is known for her cheerful good nature, kindness, and bubbly personality, which inspires all. Now, Nana Jo could have focused on her sight issues, resented a half-seen life, and groaned her way through her days. Instead, she focuses on what she can do, what she likes about her life, on what gives joy to both her and those around her.
Let Nana Jo inspire you to an optimistic point of view. Play the “Three Things!” game as often as you can throughout your day. Let consistent recognition of what you like bring a smile to your heart as it increases your chances of “exceptional longevity.”
What do you do to stay optimistic even during trying times? Do you have any example of how optimism helped you through a serious life event? Have you played the “Three Things!” game before? How can optimism help you enjoy “exceptional longevity”? Please share your thoughts and comments below.