Whats the payoff for a positive perspective?
Its healthy to be an optimist, but some evidence suggests that its possible to take the whole glass-is-half-full thing too far. In the Terman study, an eight-decades-long study of 1,500 Californians initiated by Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman, the kids who were cheerful and fun-lovingcall them cockeyed optimistsgrew up to live shorter lives, on average, than their diligent and prudent cohorts.
Why? It turns out that the happy-go-lucky ones, who figured that everything was always going to be fine, took too many risks with their health, while their conscientious fellows were more likely to check out that funny-looking mole or worry a little more about that odd pain in their side, explains Howard Friedman, Ph.D., distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside and coauthor of The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study, which chronicles the Terman study.
Whats the key? Finding the balance between optimism and conscientiousness; but if youre worried that being conscientious is going to turn you into a dull, serious adult, Friedman has good news: The diligent children in the Terman study grew up to be happy, too. Their behavior actually produced positive moods, he says. And they werent boring at all. They were the people who had the most interesting lives, with many going on to leadership positions. You dont advance to become a ceo, general, or governor by being a screw-up.
What about a skeptical life view?
If youre a more skeptical type, you dont have to fear for your longevity.
Heres why: emotions are only a part of your personal long-life equation. As long as you follow a healthy lifestyle and get regular medical checks, youll be on the right track.
Still, though, you might want to push your needle toward more positivity. A recent Australian study found that adults who took a few minutes to reflect on three positive things that had happened that day were more content and optimistic after just a few weeks. These dont have to be momentous thingsjust pleasurable or meaningful activities, like enjoying your morning cappuccino or connecting with an old friend on Facebook.