Study after study has found that having a sense of happiness and a positive attitude is the key to wellbeing and living longer. A sunny outlook can help enhance your work performance, improve interpersonal relationships, boost your immune system, help you sleep better, and improve your overall health, all of which can help you live longer.
A few examples of studies that bolster the theory that having a positive outlook can help you have a healthier, longer life:
- A 2016 study out of France examined the positive or negative effect (also called subjective wellbeing) of 3,777 French seniors with a baseline age of 62 to 101 years old at the beginning of the research. Over the course of the 22-year study, a positive attitude was correlated to longevity.
- A study published in 2015 and sponsored by the National Institute on Aging interviewed 2,282 Mexican-Americans ages 65 to 99. The researchers found that participants with a more positive attitude (or affect) and view of the world were half as likely to have died during the 2‐year follow‐up period as compared to those with a less positive outlook.
- A 2011 study out of England assessed the general outlook of 3,853 British seniors age 52 to 79 and then periodically followed up with them for 5 years. The participants who, on an average day, described themselves as content, happy, or excited were up to 35 percent less likely to die prematurely.
Improving your sense of wellbeing
So, how do you improve your happiness and sense of wellbeing? It’s true that you can’t buy it, though people continue to try.
Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, established a field of behavioral health called positive psychology, which studies the factors that enable individuals and communities to flourish. As a part of this work, Seligman developed what he calls the PERMA theory of wellbeing. PERMA states that there are five building blocks that enable people to achieve a sense of wellbeing: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment (thus, PERMA).
- Positive emotion: While some people tend to have a naturally positive view of both the past and their future, we do have the ability to increase our positive emotions. Seligman suggests practicing forgiveness and gratitude about the past, mindfulness to savor the present, and hope and optimism about the unknowns of the future.
- Engagement: People naturally find happiness and satisfaction in using their skills and talents to complete a challenge.
- Relationships: Humans are pack animals. Our connections with other people are a crucial key to finding happiness in life. Spending time with loved ones and performing acts of kindness toward other people naturally increases our sense of wellbeing.
- Meaning: Finding a greater purpose in life boosts our wellbeing as well. Things like spirituality, social causes, vocation, family, and volunteering can add meaning to one’s life.
- Accomplishment: People often derive satisfaction and happiness from working hard to achieve a goal, whether professionally or recreationally.
Seligman notes that people can find a sense of wellbeing from each of these five building blocks in different ways and in varying degrees.
PERMA at CCRCs
- Positive emotion: CCRCs make it easy to savor the present, offering a comfortable and carefree lifestyle for their independent living residents. They also offer optimism by way of peace of mind about the future. CCRC residents can rest assured that if they require care in the future, they will have ready access to a continuum of care services.
- Engagement: CCRCs excel at keeping their residents active and engaged in life. They offer art classes, lifelong learning classes, book clubs, music groups, and much more—many of which are resident-led—all designed to ensure residents are able to keep their minds stimulated, which contributes to improved mental health and wellbeing.
- Relationships: The social aspect of living in a CCRC is among the most valuable to many residents I’ve spoken with. Forming new friendships with other residents offers people a strong social support system, in both good times and bad. It can be especially valuable for couples to be able to remain in close proximity to one another if and when one of them requires a higher level of care. They are happy to be able to continue to spend their days together without having to leave the CCRC campus, which is beneficial for the health of both partners.
- Meaning: Many CCRCs offer their residents a number of volunteer opportunities, which can increase residents’ sense of purpose. In addition to traditional programs like helping the sick or less fortunate, more and more CCRCs are also providing intergenerational programs, which provide benefits to both the seniors and young people who are involved. CCRCs also can nurture residents’ spirituality, providing on-campus faith services and/or offering shuttle service to nearby houses of worship.
- Accomplishment: There are a number of ways that CCRCs can facilitate residents’ sense of accomplishment. Helping them nurture a creative hobby like painting or photography, or a recreational hobby like tennis or swimming, CCRC residents have many opportunities to enjoy the satisfaction of working toward a goal while increasing their sense of wellbeing.
Boosting the well-being of seniors
Brad Breeding wrote several times about various studies that suggest that those who opt to move to a retirement community, such as a CCRC, are happier and healthier than their peers who remain in their existing home, and the supporting research only grows. (To be fair, I have heard of some CCRCs and other retirement communities that are a bit cliquish, and some new residents feel ostracized, which has the opposite effect. It’s important to learn as much as you can about the resident culture before moving in.)
Researchers continue to find that retirement community residents are more likely than non-residents to be participating in an array of activities such as social and educational events, trying new creative or recreational activities, getting together with family and friends, and eating with other people in order to prevent loneliness, exercising to stay active and fit. They also benefit mentally from the peace of mind that they have both a support system and a safety net in place should they or their partner experience a health setback.
All of these factors support the PERMA theory of wellbeing and help explain why, overall, CCRC residents are happier, healthier, and enjoying life more (and for longer) than their non-resident peers.