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Positive thinking means approaching life’s challenges with a positive outlook. It doesn’t mean seeing the world through rose-colored lenses by ignoring or glossing over the negative aspects of life. Do we tend to see the glass as half empty or half full? We have probably heard that question plenty of times. Our answer relates directly to the concept of positive thinking and whether we have a positive or negative outlook on life. Positive thinking plays an important role in positive psychology, a subfield devoted to the study of what makes people happy and fulfilled. Today, more than ever, we are experiencing negativity all around us. As a result, we need to think about how to survive and achieve health and happiness.

Positive thinking does not necessarily mean avoiding difficult situations. Instead, positive thinking means making the most of potential obstacles, trying to see the best in other people, and viewing ourselves and our abilities in a positive light. Research has found that positive thinking can aid in stress management and stress reduction, improved immunity, lower risk for heart disease, and even plays an important role in our overall health and well-being. It can help combat feelings of low self-esteem, improve physical health, and help brighten our overall outlook on life.

But did you know that keeping a positive outlook can help us live longer, too? Here’s what research says about optimism and aging, and what we can do to reap the rewards. Having a positive outlook on life is good for our mental well-being. The problem is that life isn’t always positive. We all have painful emotions and experiences. Those emotions, while often unpleasant, need to be felt and dealt with openly and honestly to achieve acceptance and greater psychological health.

Studies show that how you perceive aging and our lives as a whole effect’s 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. Research 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 our opinion on aging while we are still young can build a positive perspective that can have a tremendous effect on our life expectancy. Positive thinking about aging can increase a person’s will to live, making them more resilient to illness and more proactive about health. Since those of us with a positive outlook are likely to experience less stress, reducing our likelihood of developing chronic diseases or disorders.

Positive thinking is linked to a wide range of health benefits in addition to stress management, including better coping skills, enhanced psychological health, greater resistance to the common cold, increased physical well-being, longer life span, lower rates of depression, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease-related death. One study of 1,558 older adults found that positive thinking could also reduce frailty during old 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. We are often more in touch spiritually and we can prioritize depth in our lives. By following a simple, healthy lifestyle we can preserve our health and energy through life. Of course, in addition to positive thinking, there are lifestyle factors that can add years to our lives, including exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutrient-dense diet, consuming only moderate amounts of alcohol, and not smoking, all of which can help extend lifespan by 12–14 years. While many 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 we can enjoy a richer, more satisfying life.

Like meditation, yoga, or any self-care ritual, staying positive is a practice. Fortunately, the tools required are free and can be done on our own and at our own pace. We all need a few ways to cultivate positive thinking in our daily life. No matter the format, if we choose a gratitude journal, it can be a powerful way to connect to our emotions and relieve stress. Maintaining a regular practice will help develop a new way of thinking so we can easily identify and stop negative thoughts when they arise.  Another approach to positive thinking is to repeat positive statements several times that are based on reality. For example, I am feeling good or I can handle whatever comes my way. The result is that we incorporate those statements into a positive self-image. Another suggested behavior to generate positive thinking is to spend time with other positive thinkers. The saying goes, “You are the company you keep.” Therefore, it makes sense that when we associate with other optimists, we tend to feel uplifted, happy, and supported. Take note of our emotions when we are around friends and family. We may need to establish boundaries with those who bring our positive energy down. But overall what better way to add life to our years and years to our life!

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