Feeling Fabulous at Fifty-ish Live Happier, Live Longer

Hello, Fabulous! March is National Optimism Month. Time to shake off those winter blues and get ready for the first day of spring on March 20th. Here in the beautiful Carolinas, we look forward to lush lawns, picnics in the parks, and the sweet smell of wisteria in the air. And if that’s not enough to be optimistic, there’s another very good reason to be happy: it’s good for your health! People who live happier, live longer.

I mentioned this over wine one night with friends. One of them announced, “I’m an optimist, I expect the worst and hope for the best.” I think the sound of my brain breaking was actually audible. We all laughed, and while choking on my wine, I mumbled an expletive that meant ‘That’s not true.’ I told her, “That’s actually the opposite of optimism. You cannot expect the worst and be positive.” She argued, “But I said I hope for the best.” In my opinion, being an optimist means doing something to promote positive outcomes. Feeling hopeful is nice, but optimism is hope in action. A pessimist believes the worst will happen; they do nothing to promote positive outcomes since the fight is already lost. A pessimist in inactive.

Some people are thinking, “Am I supposed to bury my feelings? Sometimes I’m mad, or sad, or cautious, or suspicious…” Of course, you are! Most of our readers are human, and that is part of being human. These feelings are real and very important. Often, they serve as warnings, or to help us process difficult emotions – they are situation-specific reactions. Being optimistic or pessimistic is how we look at everyday situations.

Our attitude has very real health consequences, and studies show that optimists are healthier than pessimists. Dr. Laura Kubzansky, Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard, studied aging and emotional vitality. She said, “Emotional vitality is characterized by enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance.” She found that participants with increased emotional vitality had a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, and lived 7.5 years longer than their negative counterparts. Other research suggests optimists also enjoy:

  • Increased problem solving abilities
  • Stronger immune systems
  • Superior communication and interpersonal skills
  • Greater memory and reaction times
  • Increased strength, endurance and agility
  • Lower rates of depression and distress
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better emotional resilience
  • Increased serotonin and oxytocin hormones, resulting in a happier brain
  • Healthier relationships
  • Better sleep, sex, and moods

A common characteristic of pessimism is chronic stress, which is associated with the onset of:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Insomnia
  • Obesity
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance diseases
  • Headaches
  • Impotence
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lowered immune system
  • Inflammation disorders

Some people believe stress is good, that people perform better under pressure. That is false. The Journal of Clinical Psychology conducted a study focused on negative thinking and the ability to problem solve. People who reported that they worry 50% of the time showed a significant disruption in their ability to perform tasks. “When the brain is faced with complex tasks, negative thinking hurts your ability to process information and think clearly.”

Here are a few ways we can develop our optimism:

  1. Hit the ‘pause’ button, check yourself occasionally, be conscious of your thoughts
  2. Stay in the moment, avoid getting drawn into old arguments or patterns of behavior
  3. Make a list of your successes, remind yourself that you can do anything
  4. Practice gratitude, find something you’re thankful for (dig deep)
  5. Surround yourself with people and things that promote a positive attitude
  6. Prioritize and balance, get done what needs doing but be sure to take breaks
  7. Have a sense of purpose, being a part of something special or a group keeps us connected
  8. Detox your friends list, misery loves company so as hard as this is, you may need a negative friend cleanse
  9. Protect yourself, when Negative Nancy shows up, be clear with her about how you expect to be treated and the consequences for overstepping those boundaries – you deserve better
  10. Self-care, boost your mood with laughter, friends, music, and pampering