Optimism supports women’s good health – especially in aging. That’s the evidence of dozens of research studies. People with an optimistic attitude tend to have better health outcomes and more years of healthy life. In fact, if optimism were a drug, your doctor would gladly write a prescription!
This article will highlight two recent studies that confirm the better health of optimistic women, and then we’ll consider: What is optimism? How could you be more optimistic?
In particular, we’ll look at four simple ways to help find more optimism and natural happiness. Hint: More optimism doesn’t mean you have to be more cheerful. You won’t need to change your personality!
First, let’s look at the research.
A 2019 study showed that optimistic women are more likely to ‘age well’.
Dr. Peter James and his colleagues of Harvard Medical School followed the health of more than 33,000 American women for eight years. The women were of average age 67, and all were in good health at the outset.
The women completed various health tests, including a psychological test that measured their level of optimism. This test showed that some of the women were in the ‘most optimistic’ group, and others were in the ‘least optimistic’ group.
When the study ended, eight years later, researchers again checked the women’s health.
They found that the women of the ‘most optimistic’ group were 23% more likely to still be healthy. They were living without chronic illness or any cognitive or physical impairment – as compared to the women of the ‘least optimistic’ group.
Researchers concluded that the optimistic women were 23% more likely to be ’aging well’.
Another optimism study was released in 2019.
Researchers investigated ‘exceptional longevity’ – a life span of 85 years or beyond. They discovered that optimistic women are much more likely to live into these advanced years.
The study included more than 69,000 women who participated in the Nurses Health Study, beginning in 1976. The women completed an optimism test in 2004, and then their health was tracked through 2016.
The researchers compared the health of the quarter of participants who had highest optimism scores with the health of the quarter of participants who had lowest optimism scores.
They found that women in the most optimistic group lived 15% longer than women in the least optimistic group. And the women with highest levels of optimism were 1.5 times more likely to survive to age 85.
Researchers checked for this, and they concluded: No. They said the results “were independent of socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviours (e.g., smoking, diet, alcohol use).”
In other words, the effect of optimism didn’t depend on other health factors.
They concluded: “Optimism is an important psychosocial resource for extending life span in older adults”.
In psychology, optimism is a type of attitude – a way of looking at things. In both these studies, optimism is defined as “the expectation that good things will happen.”
For example, here are 3 statements that show low optimism (pessimism). They’re from a psychological test used to measure optimism.
Maybe you’ve felt like this, from time to time? Feelings of pessimism are surprisingly common in modern life.
Here are four simple methods you might use to support your optimism and natural happiness. Each is a self-care strategy from mindfulness or positive psychology.
These self-care methods aren’t self-improvement. You’re not trying to change yourself. Instead, you’re wanting to experience yourself – to feel your happiness. You’ll be guided by what feels good, what you like.
Note: Even a single strategy could prove helpful if you bring it into daily life.
When your day starts – maybe as you’re leaving home – say to yourself “Good things could happen today!”
And this is true, isn’t it? Good things could happen today! Simply remember that possibility at the outset of your day. This is optimism!
It’s easy to overlook happy moments. We’re often too busy thinking, and we miss the happiness!
Notice a ‘happy moment’, a ’good feeling’. You don’t need to think about it. You don’t need to intensify it or make it continue. Just recognize it. Feel the feeling as it is. Be awake to happiness.
Happy moments can vary – some may be subdued, brief. Over the day, happy moments often come… and go… This is natural.
For example, you might like what’s happening right now, you like an event: the rain ends, sun shines… the cat comes home… your headache improves… you get good news… your package arrives… the store has a surprise sale… you enjoy cooking dinner… All happy moments!
Or you enjoy the pleasure of your senses: feeling the cool breeze… seeing a beautiful sunrise… hearing birdsong… tasting your tea… smelling a fragrance… floating in warm bathwater… More happy moments!
Hint: You might linger for a few moments longer with pleasant sensations. Thinking isn’t necessary.
Here’s a game to play if you feel bored or uncertain: Look for beauty!
Look around. Do you see any beauty? If not, look again. You could be surprised. Even something small can be beautiful. And this is the beauty you experience – not what someone else would think. You might play this little game as you’re waiting (for a bus? in a waiting room?) or as you walk a boring path… Look for beauty!
Experiment with optimism during stressful times – especially if you’re someone who’s often pessimistic.
An optimistic woman is usually more effective. Pessimism demoralizes, weakening our capacity for clear thinking and skillful action.
Imagine the best possible outcome – and then do what’s necessary!
Do you know an optimistic woman you admire? Imagine how she would deal with this. Yes, this is optimism guided by imagination. But isn’t pessimism also based on our thoughts?
Sometimes pessimistic thinking is a deeply ingrained habit. People mistakenly assume that pessimism is somehow ‘true’ or necessary – even though an optimistic attitude is usually better for problem-solving. After all, optimistic women tend to live longer and healthier lives!
Many women enjoy keeping a ‘Gratitude Journal’. Towards the end of every day, they record several happy moments from earlier in the day – moments they feel grateful to have experienced.
Ask yourself: What’s a moment I appreciated today? Remember how it felt. Then record it.
You could simply list these moments or maybe write a few sentences. It’s usually better to keep records brief so you’ll write consistently, every day. Don’t ‘burn out’.
Note: This doesn’t usually involve philosophical reflection. It’s more about actually remembering the good feeling.
Special power is in writing daily – especially on difficult days. Hint: Notice that you can probably recall one or two moments of good feeling even during the worst days.
Research shows that, over time, keeping a Gratitude Journal can help increase people’s happiness and reduce depression. New research even suggests a Gratitude Journal can affect brain function.
How optimistic are you feeling these days? What do you find supports your optimism? What undermines it? Have you made any changes that help you live with more optimism?