Health

Claim That Richer, Fuller Life

Take care of body and mind through a positive outlook — forget learned helplessness

When we’re busy and stressed, it’s not easy to see the bright side of things. But we may want to give it our best shot — it may add years to our life.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University in Boston analyzed data collected over eight years on some 70,000 women — and found that the most optimistic people were significantly less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, or infections during the study period than the least optimistic.

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At a time when it seems so many people are struggling to find hope in the new year ahead — it certainly appears worth trying to shift our outlook.

“Optimistic people tend to act in healthier ways — i.e., more exercise, healthier diets, higher quality sleep, etc. — which reduces one’s risk of death,” Kaitlin Hagan, one of the study’s lead authors, told Reuters. Other studies link optimism to lower inflammation, healthier lipid levels, and higher antioxidants.

None of this surprises Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a New York City-based marriage and family therapist.

“Somewhere along [the way], we’re given the message that we’re weak and ineffective, especially women,” said one family therapist.

“I’m just glad the research supports what clinicians see daily and Eastern philosophers have known for over 2,500 years,” Hokemeyer told LifeZette. “Positive thinking, or optimism as it’s referred to in scientific circles, is incredibly healing. The original practitioners of this [optimism] were the students of Eastern philosophy and mindfulness. Being able to eliminate suffering, the main tenet of Buddhism, was the capacity to free one’s self from the pernicious effects of negative thoughts. So this work has been around a long time. Science and Western medicine are finally catching up.”

Another major benefit of an optimistic attitude, Hokemeyer added, is resiliency. That needs to be addressed in the U.S., he believes.

“There is a genetic pull in all of us to move us toward health and wellness. What happens is, somewhere along our developmental path, we’re given the message that we’re weak and ineffective — especially women. So there’s this learned helplessness that’s accepted at a very, very early age and our brain becomes wired to this psychological schema,” he said.

Related: Curmudgeons Cut Their Own Lives Short

When that becomes our baseline, we get comfortable there. But in order to have a healthy, productive life, we’ve got to learn to push through those self-destructive patterns, said Hokemeyer.

“A good goal in life is to be intentional. We’ve got to force ourselves to plug into the voices that tell us we’re deserving to claim that richer, fuller life.”

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