The power of optimism

22. March 2021

Do optimists live longer, healthier lives?

Do optimists live longer, healthier lives?

And not only do they live longer, healthier lives than pessimists, they also have more friends, are more productive, and enjoy happier, more fulfilling relationships. Spring is in the air, and if the coronavirus crisis ever ends, we will all breathe a sigh of relief. While the pandemic continues, we simply have to remain optimistic. This reminds us of the fictional character Jakob Formann, created by Austrian author Johannes Mario Simmel, who in 1978 wrote the world bestseller “Hurra wir leben noch” (“Hurrah, We’re Still Alive”).

Jakob Formann had a strong will to live. He came from a poor background and survived the Second World War on the Eastern Front. He was held as a prisoner of war before returning to Austria, where he achieved sensational social advancement in the turbulent post-war years, eventually reaching the top echelons of society. This hugely optimistic fictional character became one of wealthiest, most famous and most successful men of the 1950s

The irrepressible 1950s zest for life

“And with the ferocity of a bull… oh, what bliss, oh, what joy… The most beautiful thing in the world is, has always been, and will always be: that there! And there. And back.” Jakob Formann in the first scene, Johannes Mario Simmel: “Hurra wir leben noch”, Droemer Knaur, 1978.

Three million people have read and loved the novel. For Jakob Formann, the glass was never half empty, it was always half full. In 1983 Peter Zadekdirected an adaptation of “Hurrah, We’re Still Alive” for the big screen under the title “Die wilden Fünfziger” (“The Wild Fifties”) . In the main roles, Juraj Kukura was cast as Jakob Formann, Peter Kern as Franz Arnusch and Christine Kaufmann as Natascha.

After difficult times, it is precisely the optimism and ebullience of the 1950s that we all need in 2021. Hurrah, we’re still alive!

It is true that over the last year we have all gone through some difficult weeks and months, and that some of us have been left badly shaken. But this is no reason to hang your head. The Dalai Lama once said that positive deeds require a positive attitude.

Let’s have a look and see what Wikipedia has to say about optimism: “Optimism (from Latin: optimum, “the best”) is an attitude which views the world or a circumstance in the best possible light.”

The term generally designates a cheerful, ebullient and life-affirming attitude, determined by positive expectations of the future. Furthermore, optimism denotes a philosophical view that this world is the best of all possible worlds, that everything in the world is good and reasonable, or that it will change for the better”. 

Can you spot an optimist?

How can you recognise a true optimist? They are the people who always hope for the very best. You can also single them out by statements such as: “We can fix this”, “That’s no problem”, “It’ll be fine”, “It’s not as bad as it looks”, “Don’t ever give up hope”, or “Tomorrow is another day”. So if you come across someone who uses these idioms frequently, then you have definitely found an optimist.

There is a fitting ancient German proverb that reflects this outlook: Don’t be angry that the roses have thorns, instead be happy that the thorns have roses.

Optimism is a life-affirming personality trait

In other words, optimists generally see the world or events that happen to them in a positive light, and they use positive language. They also enjoy the little things in life and have a good feeling about the future, both for themselves and others. You can teach yourself to think in this way. 

You have to think positive to attract positivity. One of the oldest theories in the world is a universal law which states that positive attitudes and thoughts attract positive things, in other words that like attracts like. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“Your happiness in life depends on the nature of your thoughts.” And Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you will be proved right.” The followers of this belief see it as universal principle that should be valid at “every point in time”, for “every person”, “every feeling” and “every single thought”.

The whole thing can also be understood in reverse. As Henry Ford pointed out, the law of attraction does not differentiate between positive and negative thoughts. In other words: if you think negative thoughts, you will attract negativity.  That’s how it works.

Do optimists live longer, healthier lives?

It should come as no surprise that optimists are happier than pessimists, but can it be scientifically proven? Researchers have now clearly shown that not only are optimists happier than pessimists, they also live longer, healthier lives. They eat more vitamins and less fat, and they exercise more.

In a study, US researchers have shown that optimists have a greater chance of growing old than pessimists. People with a positive outlook on life have a good chance of reaching the age of 85 and older

The study found that the most strongly optimistic group was 50 percent more likely to reach the age of 85 or older than the mostly strongly pessimistic group. For men, researchers at the Boston University of Medicine found that the difference was as much as 70 percent.

The results were published in the “Proceedings” of the US Academy of Sciences (“PNAS”). Researchers defined an optimist as someone “who believes that good things will happen or that the future is worth striving for because certain goals can be achieved.”

What else did the research find?

The researchers suspect that optimists also benefit from other life advantages: “Other studies suggest that optimistic people are better at regulating their emotions and behaviour. And they recover better from stressful situations and difficulties”, stated co-author Laura Kubzansky in a press release from the Boston University School of Medicine.

In certain circumstances, optimists may also be better at social integration, which could also have a positive effect on life expectancy.

Optimism is partly genetic, but it can also be learned, according to the researchers: “This study is of great relevance to public health because it suggests that optimism is one of the psychological factors that can prolong human life. Interestingly, we can influence our own levels of optimism. There are very simple methods and therapies for this”, said lead author Lewina Lee in the press release. To see the results of the entire study, click here.

Despite the study, researchers are still unsure why pessimism reduces life expectancy. However, they suspect that the physical effects of stress are to blame.

Are optimists happier than pessimists?

The clear answer to this question is Yes. Simply put, optimists are happier with themselves and their surroundings. They don’t worry unduly, and they are almost always confident about what will happen to them in life. And not only do they live longer, healthier lives than pessimists, they also have more friends, are more productive, and enjoy happier, more fulfilling relationships.

Pessimists often only see the dangers in life and are afraid of failure, while optimists never give up hope, even when faced with major challenges and crises. They believe in the motto:“Where there’s a will, there’s a way”, and trust that everything will turn out alright in the end. It is precisely this attitude that makes optimists happier and more content.

Pessimists also get discouraged more quickly and give up sooner. While optimists take the bull by the horns, pessimists fall into hopelessness and, in the worst cases, into depression. A large number of psychological studies have shown that optimists never lose heart, even in the face of greater difficulties. They are more self-confident and rarely suffer from worry or distress.

Science has shown that looking at life in a positive light has many advantages. So what advice can we give pessimists? You can’t control everything in life; setbacks are just as much a part of it as success. Believe in yourself and be grateful for what you have.

We should view the world like Winston Churchill. “The pessimist sees a problem in every possibility. The optimist sees a possibility in every problem”. 

Let’s all look forward to a wonderful spring, an exhilarating summer, to being able to travel again soon, to meeting friends and family, going to restaurants, to Christmas markets and a huge New Year’s Eve 2021/22. Hurrah, we’re still alive!

Sources: dpa news agency