What’s something that feels amazing, is contagious and actually could save your life?
Realistic optimism. Embracing that glass-is-half-full view of the world, while willing to acknowledge its challenges, can increase your happiness quotient, help you live more healthfully and roll back your RealAge.
Thankfully, you don’t have to act like Pollyanna or recite wimpy affirmations like “Saturday Night Live’s” Stuart Smalley (who was good enough, smart enough and doggone it, people liked him!) to get all the benefits that come from feeling more hopeful and less stressed. They include:
A healthier ticker. Even if you’re at high risk for heart disease because of a genetic predisposition, family history, high lousy LDL cholesterol or elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, living with a sense of hope and well-being can lower your odds for heart disease by 30 percent to 50 percent. If you’ve already had a heart attack, optimism can help you stay on track with exercise and lower your odds for dying within five years after a cardiac event by a whopping 40 percent.
Better blood fats. Optimism nudged levels of healthy HDL cholesterol upward and pushed levels of heart-threatening triglycerides down, according to another new report. Highly optimistic people had HDLs four points higher than gloomier folks, enough to reduce their heart disease risk 12 percent.
Improved decision-making. Optimism enhances your ability to make good decisions under stress, a skill that can help you say “no, thanks” to a coffee-break doughnut on a tough day at work, “yes” to exercise (rather than chips, the couch and the TV remote) when you’re tense. And that means you’ll be better at solving whatever challenges life throws your way.
Stronger immunity. A bright outlook boosts an important defense against disease called “cell-mediated immunity.” How important is it? Very! This part of your immune system controls your body’s ability to fight invading bacteria and viruses, and helps battle some cancer cells.
Stroke protection. A hopeful outlook can cut your risk for a life-threatening, mind-damaging “brain attack” by 10 percent or more. Why? Because positive people are more likely to get exercise and eat healthfully, sleep better and feel less stressed, which are all lifestyle activities that reduce the risk of stroke. But it may be something more than that. Optimism all by itself bolsters health in ways that remain mysterious.
A longer life and younger RealAge. A healthy old age isn’t just a result of good genes. New data show that North America’s longest-living citizens share a zest for life: They’re easygoing, upbeat and social.
So if you’re ready to gain those benefits of optimism, here are a few easygoing steps that can help you over to the sunny side.
Think loving thoughts. A short “loving kindness” meditation (you focus on feelings of love and compassion for yourself and others) increases optimism and makes you feel more connected to those around you; spending time with friends is another important mood booster.
Feeling good? Go deeper. People who pay attention to and enhance their positive emotions are more able to overcome tough times. Perhaps turning up the volume on good feelings builds a reservoir of joy to see you through life’s challenges. Try noticing when you feel playful, serene or spiritually uplifted, and then ask yourself how you can heighten that feeling. It’s fun!
Keep it real. Having unrealistically positive expectations or glossing over problems instead of solving them can backfire, triggering low moods.
See positive challenges instead of threats. Resilient people attack problems in everyday life like a plumber who knows he’s got a well-stocked toolbox and plenty of experience when dealing with situations such as a leaky pipe. The job may be wet and dirty, but he has the confidence to meet the challenge and leave things dry and clean.
Try to consciously make this positive mind shift when you feel defensive, threatened or worried about failure. Just reminding yourself to think more positively is often all it takes, science says.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.