It is the dawning of a new year, bright with possibilities. None of us can know what lies ahead, but some of us anticipate the future with a sense of dread, and some with joyful anticipation.
Quite a few studies by experts have underscored what our own observations probably lead us to believe: people who think positively about life tend to be more enjoyable to be around, experience less stress, and actually extend their lifespan. That’s very motivating!
Researchers at Yale University found that people who maintain a positive view of the aging process do more for their longevity than maintaining low blood pressure and healthy cholesterol, avoiding excess weight, refraining from smoking, and having a habit of regular exercise, even though these proven health strategies are known to add 3-4 years to one’s life! 1
A similar study at the University of Texas found that people who maintain positive emotions and thoughts are far less likely to become frail as they go through life. One reason for this may be that a positive, upbeat person is likely to have more social connections to sustain them. Just think of how you are drawn to such people!
The study asked participants to reflect on their thoughts over the past week and measure how often they experienced these positive affirmations:
“I felt that I was just as good as other people.”
“I felt hopeful about the future.”
“I was happy.”
“I enjoyed life.”
Those with a higher incidence of such positive emotions and thoughts were followed for a period of seven years and found to be far less likely to become frail than participants with fewer positive thoughts.2
If positive thinking does so much to improve our overall well-being, how can we cultivate it as a habit?
*Choose your focus. While we don’t want to deny the reality of difficult circumstances, most days have their measure of grace and mercy mixed in with challenges. We can choose to focus on the bad or the good. Just think of how one rude driver can put a dark cloud over your whole commute, while hundreds of well- mannered drivers never register on our consciousness! We can literally train our brain to rehearse deeds of kindness, gracious words, and happy events as a focus rather than let our mood be plunged into darkness by the harshness we sometimes encounter.
*Choose your friends. Everyone has a few negative people in their circle of friends and family, but we do have the power to limit their impact on us. Setting limits with the “stinkers and sinkers” in our lives can be an important step toward a more positive mental landscape.
*Choose your worldview. Are we just adrift in the world, sitting ducks in a game of fate? Are we masters of our world, who just need to manage our lives with greater expertise? Is the world a good place with a few hurtful people, or a hurtful place with a few good people? Is there a God in control who can be trusted to bring us through life with kind oversight, come what may? These questions are really at the heart of whether we will live our lives with hopeful optimism or despair.
*Choose your content. Positive thinking and emotions can be supported by uplifting music, literature, art, and humor! We can choose the content that comes into our minds, and focusing on what is beautiful, true, and worthwhile can bring peace and long life!
Happy New Year from all of us at Cascade Companion Care!
1“Positive Thinking Extends Life”, BBC news report of research originally published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 7/29/2002.
2“Onset of Frailty in Older Adults and the protective Role of Positive Affect”, Glenn V. Ostir, Kenneth J. Ottenbacher and Kyriakos S. Markides, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; Psychology and Aging, Vol. 19, No. 3.