There are many benefits of positive thinking, including stress reduction, improved immunity, and a lower risk for heart disease. But did you know that keeping a positive outlook can help you live longer, too? Here’s what research says about optimism and aging, and what you can do to reap the rewards.
Add Years to Your Life
Studies show that how you perceive aging and your life as a whole affects longevity. A 2019 study found that positive thinking can result in an 11–15% longer lifespan and a stronger likelihood of living to age 85 or older. This effect remained after other factors such as age, gender, income, depression, and health status were controlled.
Look Forward to Aging
Research on the topic has found that people who have a positive outlook on aging while they are young, rather than dreading growing old, have a greater chance of living longer. That’s because adjusting your opinion on aging while you’re still young can build a positive perspective that can have a tremendous effect on your life expectancy.
Findings suggest that positive thinking about aging can increase a person’s will to live, making them more resilient to illness and more proactive about health. Those with a positive outlook are also likely to experience less stress, reducing their likelihood of developing chronic diseases or disorders.
Find Insight as You Age
Our society tends to prize youth and beauty, while messages about aging tend to emphasize the negative aspects. But, like fine wine, people should get better as they age. Experience, combined with maturity, gives older people great insight. They’re often more in touch spiritually and they prioritize depth in their life. By following a simple, healthy lifestyle you can preserve your health and energy throughout life.
Other Markers of Healthy Aging
In addition to positive thinking, there are lifestyle factors that can add years to your life, including exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutrient-dense diet, consuming only moderate amounts of alcohol (if any), and not smoking, all of which can help extend lifespan by 12–14 years.
While studies point to living longer, they don’t often discuss the improved quality of life that comes with it. But as the field of positive psychology is exploring, beyond increased lifespan, positive thoughts and emotions can contribute tremendously to happiness so you can enjoy a richer, more satisfying life.
How to Embrace Positive Thinking
Like meditation, yoga, or any self-care ritual, staying positive is a practice. Fortunately, the tools required are free and can be done on your own at your pace. Here are a few ways to consciously cultivate positive thinking in your daily life:
- Keep a gratitude journal: No matter the format you choose—brief lists in your phone or longer entries written in a notebook—a gratitude journal can be a powerful way to connect to your emotions and relieve stress. The subject matter can vary, but the key is consistency. Maintaining a regular practice will help develop a new way of thinking so you can easily identify and stop negative thoughts when they arise.
- Repeat positive affirmations: If you say something enough times, you’re more likely to believe it. That’s the idea behind positive affirmations, statements with intention repeated numerous times to make them a part of your thinking, such as “I am feeling more peaceful each day” or “I can handle whatever comes my way.” It’s important to keep these affirmations rooted in reality. Your subconscious may flag far-fetched statements, putting you back in a negative state of mind.
- Practice loving-kindness meditation: Studies have shown that loving-kindness meditation can significantly increase a positive attitude. While there are variations to the practice, the common theme is focusing on positive phrases that evoke self-compassion as well as empathy for others, using statements like, “May I be happy” and “May you be safe.”
- Spend time with other positive thinkers: The saying goes, “You are the company you keep.” So it makes sense that when you associate with other optimists, you tend to feel uplifted, happy, and supported. Take note of your emotions when you’re around friends and family. You may need to establish boundaries with those who bring your positive energy down.