Long Happy Life
The evidence is piling up that a positive outlook is one factor that helps reduce the risk of disease for many people. Many variables influence longevity, but this much is certain: Taking a joyful approach to life has never been linked with any major illness!
Being more optimistic can be a boon to your heart. The Women's Health Initiative study gauged the optimism levels of 100,000 postmenopausal women. They found considerable difference in mortality and coronary heart disease rates, with the optimistic women living longer and decreasing their risk of heart disease. Joyfully embracing exercise also helps your heart, by increasing your circulation and strengthening your heart and blood vessels.
People with chronic pain are twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety as those with relative pain-free lives. A person in constant pain cannot enjoy connections with others, loved ones, laughter or any element of joy because the pain supersedes them all. In one study, subjects who watched comedy shows were found to have a higher pain threshold after having a good laugh. Whether the improvement was an effect of being distracted, or the result of neurotransmitters sending positive messages, the people in pain found temporary relief through laughter.
Optimism appears to have a positive effect on the immune system. A study of 124 first-year law school students assessed their levels of optimism about law school, asking if they agreed with such statemsnts as “I will be less successful than most of my classmates” or “It’s unlikely that I will fail.” They took the survey at intervals throughout their first year, and each time they were injected with a substance to summon an immune response. Then, two days later, the subjects returned to have the immune response measured. When the students were feeling optimistic about their studies, they had improved immune response. When they were feeling pessimistic, their immune response faltered.
Meditation not only relieves stress and keeps you focused, it appears to improve some kinds of memory loss. Subjects in a study conducted by researchers at the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation all had some degree of age-related memory loss. They meditated for 12 minutes daily, for eight weeks, using a form of meditation derived from kundalini yoga, called Kirtan Kriya. At the end of eight weeks, they were found to have increased blood circulation to the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain, where memories are stored. They also had improved performance on cognitive tests, including one in which they named as many animals as possible in one minute. A control group, which listened to music rather than meditate, showed none of these improvements.
Does pessimism shorten your life? A study that followed nearly 5,000 university students for more than 40 years found that those who were most pessimistic as students tended to die younger than their peers. An even longer-term study that followed 180 Catholic nuns from early adulthood to old age found that those who wrote positive autobiographies in their early 20s tended to outlive those who wrote more negative accounts. Could it be that the more optimistic among us hang on longer to experience even more joy in life? That may be overinterpreting the evidence. However, no matter how long we live, each moment that we spend connecting with our loved ones and focusing on our joy will improve the quality of our life on this planet.