Updated: Dec 3, 2020
I want to talk about positivity. Why? I believe happiness is what many people ultimately want, along with longevity. And happiness has been proven to be life-extending. Research is continuing to prove what we’ve known from experience and observation about the value of a positive outlook and finding reasons to be happy even when faced with challenges. For example:
Optimism, hope, life satisfaction, and happiness are associated with a lowered likelihood of heart disease and stroke.
People who perceive aging as a positive experience are more likely to practice healthy behaviors.
People who think they’re in poor health may die sooner than those who consider themselves healthy (regardless of their actual health status).
The Research Behind the Belief Furthering this idea about health and happiness, Dr. Andrew Steptoe (University College London), researcher, psychologist, and epidemiologist, led a team that studied 30,000 people over the age of 60 for eight years to learn more about aging, health, and happiness.
The study found that those who were least happy were 80% more likely to develop problems with everyday activities.
Dr. Steptoe and his team also analyzed the results of the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, which followed 11,000 people over the age of 50. People who reported negative emotions, like feeling anxious or worried, were 2X as likely to die within five years as people who reported feeling contented and excited. Dr. Steptoe has pointed out that this holds true regardless of age, economic status, or health status.
Additionally, a meta-analysis of more than 300 studies covering 30 years of inquiry into the relationship between stress and the immune system found that stressful events can change immune system functioning, while a positive attitude can improve your immune system.
People who assessed their lives as being “stressful” or who reported having numerous negative thoughts had a significant reduction in natural “killer” cells — those good cells whose job is to target and eliminate virus and tumor infected cells. When we’re feeling low and desperately need all of our cells to rally, the immune system is standing on the sidelines, waiting to hear from their coach (you). Since nearly all stress is “self-reported,” you are in control of what your immune system hears. So, if the molecules in your immune system respond to your thoughts, it’s time to advance the practice of positive self-talk to the top of our to-do lists.
The main takeaway here is simply this: Being happy and thinking positive thoughts, despite the challenges you may experience, is health-protective.
The Story of a Centenarian Happiness is a way of seeing and interacting with the world that brings positivity, a sense of purpose, and a spark of aliveness that is infectious.
One of the bright sparks of positivity at Aegis Living is a remarkable African-American woman whose life mirrors the wrenching challenges of succeeding in segregated America. As a centenarian, her attitude is probably her greatest gift to herself and the wide circle of friends that have surrounded her for decades.
She was born in New Orleans in 1913 and worked as a helper in a pathologist’s office starting when she was 11 or 12. In 1926, the doctor moved all the way to Seattle, and he sent for her to come live with his family and continue working. She was only 13 at the time. The doctor helped her learn to read, but she never went to school.
As a teenager, she eventually moved to the YMCA, and the housemother took her under her wing. The housemother introduced her to the black community and church, and she was taught etiquette and social skills with the other girls during their evening meals. She met her first (of three) husbands—a great example of the importance of a fulfilling life, not a “perfect” one. She had a vibrant community of friends. Apparently, her phone never stopped ringing, and she constantly had visitors and all kinds of committees and projects she was involved in.
When she thinks about what has been most important to her long life, she says:
“I try very hard to be nice to people. I feel that, down the road, they too will be nice to everybody. I do things for someone, not because I want anything, but because I want the person to do the same thing—or more—for somebody else. The golden rule is one of the things I believe in. I feel it’s paid off. Not everyone has done for me what I’ve done for them, but I feel like I’ve got it from somewhere.”
Those who practice positivity—or who are positive thinkers—make the best out every situation, focus on what they can control, let go of what they cannot, and search for ways to improve the situation and lessons they learn.
Wellness Warriors, COVID-19 has many of us feeling unhappy, stressed, and pessimistic. It’s time to practice positivity, be happier, and “live well, live long.” Until next time…STAY POSITIVE!