The Glass That’s Half Full: Optimism and Longevity

The Glass That’s Half Full: Optimism and Lon...


By: Barry Bittmann M.D.

It’s time to emerge from the doldrums.

In fact, you don’t have any time to waste – especially if you want to add quality years to your life. Mayo Clinic researchers finally gave us the proof we need to kick our negative friends and loved-ones where it hurts the most – right in the attitude!

According to a recent article in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the actual difference between optimists and pessimists just might amount to about 12 years of life. The Mayo team began by examining personality tests performed in the early and mid ’60s. They proceeded to look well into future to see how things turned out. Actually they followed their subjects (about 30 years), to scientifically measure the relationship between attitude and longevity. Simply stated, they’ve shown what many have known all along – the mind and body are an inseparable team!

Dr. Toshihiko Maruta, the study’s chief investigator stated, “The important thing is that we’ve proven the relationship scientifically, and made a correlation between how people see the world when they’re young and how they turn out 30 years later.”

You might be thinking that optimism vs. pessimism depends on one’s environment, circumstances and stressors. While I’m certainly not doubting these factors play a role, I recognize that people, even under the worst conditions, have the innate capacity to be positive and hopeful.

Ultimately, it’s not the stress that kills us. Rather, it’s our perception of stress that makes the difference.

Perception seems to determine whether that pink slip on Friday heralds doomsday or a new chance for realizing our dreams. It has also been shown to determine the killing capacity of specific cells in our body that fight cancer. The scratch on your car door can only destroy your day if you allow it to do so. Yes, we do have a choice!

In fact, we have the capacity to change and to adopt a new belief system whenever the opportunity arises. We also have the ability to create that opportunity. I suppose that’s one of the perks of being human.

And when it comes to change, we should all be experts by now. For nothing really stands still in life. As Tony DeFail and I noted in our book, Maze of Life, “three things in life are certain: death, taxes and change.”

Yet what changes and what needs to change are often quite different. Some people simply don’t know where to begin. I often suggest finding a role model and discovering their formula for succeeding. The one thing I can assure you is that no pessimist ever built a steady stream of successes. Why not consider these basic observations:

  • People who believe they can’t – don’t.
  • People who believe it’s impossible – never succeed.
  • People who believe they can’t win – lose.
  • People who believe life isn’t worth living – die.

While we;ve heard these statements over and over again, did you ever realize that the common denominator is “belief.” The good news is that beliefs are changeable. We can learn to cope and to de-stress ourselves. The capacity to develop a positive attitude is within us.

The problem, however, is that attitudinal change requires work and determination. Unfortunately, it’s easier to sulk than to discover something positive. It’s far simpler to sink into despair that it is to rise above a situation. It requires far less effort to wage war than to recreate peace.

So what is the formula for optimism?

Begin with a healthy dose of determination, add willingness to develop a positive belief system and sprinkle in a comforting sense of hope. Find a role model, take a class, sit in the park, watch children play and imagine how wonderful the next moment can be. For stringing together a series of wonderful moments is all it takes to create the future of our dreams.

You’ll soon discover that when positive change begins within, everything seems to magically change around us. The glass that was once half empty is now the one that’s half full. The obstacle we counted on (the one preventing us from moving ahead) is now seen as an opportunity in disguise. The life we failed to appreciate suddenly yields 12 more years of incredible moments. All it takes is a kick in the attitude – Mind Over Matter!

© 2000 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

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