Positive thinking is a mental and emotional commitment to focusing on the bright side of life and fostering optimism. Sometimes, this mental attitude is used as a practice to get favorable results in return. Researchers have found connections between positive thinking and lower rates of depression, reduced levels of distress, better psychological and physical well-being and even greater resistance to the common cold. So, could thinking positively about aging influence longevity?
The Study: Self-Perception and Aging
In a community-based survey conducted by researcher Becca Levy and published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, the attitudes about aging of 660 older individuals were measured. By examining longevity over the next 23 years, Levy found that individuals with a more positive view of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with a negative view of aging.
The Dangers of Negative Thinking
For Levy, longevity is about the mind/body connection. Her other studies link negative views of aging to the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease as well as to poorer recovery from major health setbacks. Patricia Boyle, neuropsychologist and behavioral scientist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, also suggests that people who think positively about aging are much less likely to develop a disability or Alzheimer’s disease, or to suffer strokes.
Changing How You Feel About Aging
Negative thoughts about aging can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies. The good news? Studies show you can improve both your mindset and well-being by changing the way you feel about aging. Levy believes older individuals have the ability to overcome and resist negative thoughts about aging by viewing the aging process in terms of opportunity and growth. Here are four ways to help feel better about aging:
- Separate the Myths from the Facts. Negative stereotypes often associate the aging process with decline. However, according to a telephone survey by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, older adults report a better quality of life than their younger counterparts. Understanding that life can improve with age can help change how you feel about aging for the better.
- Identify Negative Stereotypes About Aging in Everyday Life. According to Levy, it’s important to identify the prejudices against aging in our society and understand their persuasive powers. Simply being aware of ageism may lessen the impact. Levy suggests keeping a diary, recording the negative stereotypes out in the world as well as your own negative thoughts about aging.
- Replace Negative Thoughts with Positive Ones. The negative stereotypes about aging often carry a stronger influence than the positive ones. That’s why building awareness of negative thoughts is not enough. Building on awareness, the next logical step is to interrupt those negative thoughts and substitute them with more positive ones.
- Learn to Accept the Aging Process. Rather than expect an entirely positive aging process, accepting both the positive and negative aspects of aging in balance is ideal. Acceptance means understanding and owning the aging process, which includes embracing both the good and the bad.
Finding Positive Thinking in Purpose
You can choose to think negatively or positively about aging. A negative outlook might associate the aging process with weakness or dependency while a positive perspective might link it to experience and wisdom. According to Patricia Boyle, older individuals who associate the aging process with meaning and purpose may gain the most benefit for longevity.
Anything goal-oriented that gives you a sense of accomplishment can help you add meaning to your life, says Boyle. You can find purpose in something simple, such as reading the newspaper over breakfast, checking in on your garden, playing a game of cards or picking up a new hobby. Boyle believes the simple pleasures that foster a sense of a meaningful life often predict how well seniors live and thrive.
A New Outlook on Life
Negative thinking is common for some, but a full, rich life is often well within reach. Care for yourself, follow some sensible health tips and make room for joy in your life. It could change your whole attitude about growing old – and potentially help you live longer, too.