Anti-aging tip: Dispositional optimism

Anti-aging tip: Dispositional optimists live longer.  Sciences shows that those who have an optimistic attitude in life, do live longer. This is something that is fundamental to positive aging and  to longevity.                                                                                         

Research studies show  that dispositional optimism is a quality you need if you wish to live a long life. (Note: This page is a bit long but the information is so important, you may find it very worthwhile to read it to the end.)

Let's look at what the scientific research says about this anti-aging tip: Doctors Michael Scheier and Charles Carver developed a widely used test called, Life Orientation Test. It measures levels of optimism/pessimism. Those with an optimistic attitude respond to the following questions differently from other people:

  1. In uncertain times, do you expect the best?
  2. Do you believe that if something can go wrong, it will?

        3. Do you rarely expect things to go your way?                                                                                                                         People who are dispositionally optimistic say YES to the first question and NO to the others. Those who are dispositionally pessimistic answer YES to questions 2 and 3.  So, what about you? What were your answers?

Second Anti-Aging tip:  dispositional optimism.

Christopher Peterson and Lisa M. Bossio, wrote the book,  Health and Optimism   In it, they state that optimistic people tend to assume that external circumstances are the causes of things going wrong. Optimists DO NOT blame themselves when things go wrong.

Example: An optimistic baseball player who strikes out might say, "He was throwing sliders and I haven't much experience against that sort of pitching. I need to practice hitting that pitch so I can do better next time."  Someone who is dispositional pessimist might say instead, "I just stunk out there today." or "I never could hit a slider."  Do you see the difference?                                           

How do you normally respond when things do not go your way?       A real anti-aging-tip is to tell you that you can become a more optimistic person just by changing the way you think and speak about events. (Yes, it takes practice....especially if you were brought up in a pessimistic family. But with practice you can do it.)

More about this Anti-aging Tip. Dispositional optimists have a 'can do' attitude.  People enjoy being around 'can do' people so optimists usually enjoy a strong network of support. And such networks have been shown to be one of the things that have positive effects on over-all health.)

Dispositional pessimists are different. They walk around blaming themselves. They think: "I am a loser. I never do anything right."

Maybe you have met someone who thinks like that ... OR you may have met persons with different form of dispositional pessimism - those who view themselves as powerless to make any real changes in their lives.                                                                         They will tell you their problems but they are not looking for solutions. If you suggest a remedy, they always have a reason why that remedy will not work - nor will the next or the one after that. They are mired in their situation, powerless to improve anything at all. 

Since dispositional pessimists feel there is little they can do to change their life, they are often stressed and anxious. And they seldom experience a strong network of social support.

Anti-aging tip: On the other hand, dispositional optimists tend to go through life feeling good about themselves. Their moods are more positive. The usually are happy, excited and interested in life. AND they tend to live longer...

And our dispositional style even affects how we interpret decisions we have made in the past.

Consider this scenario:

You need a car but can not afford a new one. You do not want to lease one because there are rumors at work that your division might be transferred out of the area in a few months. After much thought you decide to buy a used car that comes with a 6 month warranty.

Then your company decides not to open its new division across the country so you are not transferred. Nine months later the transmission on the car you bought goes on the blink and has to be replaced.

If you are an dispositional optimist you will tend to view this sort of thing as a case of "Sometimes the unexpected happens." You will think that you made the best decision at the time given what you knew and now, you need to figure out which repair shop is most likely to do the best job in the shortest time so you have a car  to get to work..... and maybe you can find a shop that will guarantee their work".

A dispositional pessimist, on the other hand,  is likely to replay the original decision over and over again ...blaming him/herself for making a poor decision and that bad decision is why he or she is facing a big expense now.  Yes, if you are a dispositional pessimist you are likely to spend time trying to assign blame for what has happened.                                                                                You may think: "The dealer gypped me. He knew that car was going to have problems."   You may worry about finding a mechanic to do the repair job  AND you are likely to find it hard to  trust the new repair shop : "They are all rip offs. I can not win."

It is as though the dispositional optimists and pessimists live in different worlds. One is upbeat, forward looking, takes any set backs in stride and is always about 'problem solving' to bring things back to normal. The other feels that 'forces are against me' or that " there is something wrong with me" and I just do not make good decisions ....or.... NO ONE can really be trusted to do a good job.

Again our Anti-aging tip: Research shows that your attitude has serious health consequences and it can affect your longevity. 

Another Anti-aging tip quality: Self efficacy. This is another term the researchers use: self-efficacy. People with high Self efficacy can set goals that they find are important and they believe that they can attain those goals by specific behaviors under their control. They believe that they can carry out whatever actions are needed in a given situation. Dispositional Optimists tend to have self-efficacy.

Dispositional pessimists tend NOT to be self efficacious - either because it does not occur to them to set specific goals or because they do not believe that they can reach such goals. So they tend not to act in ways that are to their own benefit. 

Anti-aging tip: Cultivate some positive illusions Now you may be thinking that optimism just does not make sense in the face of catastrophic events or illness. But what is astonishing is that researchers have found just the opposite.

Anti-Aging tip: dispositional optimism with its 'can do attitude' - even when it involves of "not facing the fact that tests results show that a serious illness is getting worse' is still a projector of longevity in the very ill.

Dr. Shelly Taylor, a psychologist at the University of California Los Angeles, came up with the term 'positive illusions'. She had interviewed women with breast cancer. Some of the women had exaggerated views of their control over the disease. They were certain that they had been or were being cured - even though medical tests showed that their cancer was progressing/spreading. And these women lived longer that others in the group who accepted in the inevitable progress of their illness. That was when Taylor coined that term "positive illusions".

In a later study of HIV infected persons, done by Dr. Taylor with some other investigators, they found that such 'positive illusions' led to the patients with positive illusions living 9 months longer than those who 'accepted their condition'. There is additional research and if you are interested in reading it, do check the bibliography for some book titles. But more are more researchers are concluding that 'dispositional optimism has a real positive effect on longevity and 'positive illusions' may offer benefits to those with catastrophic illness but there remains another question..... 

How can I become a dispostional optimist?

Next question for those interested in Longevity:  If 'dispositional optimism' has such a positive impact on our longevity, how do acquire it and how can we use it in our everyday lives?

If you find that you are NOT a dispositional optimist, but would like  to acquire this important trait, here is a page about how to do that:  Anti-aging tip: How to acquire dispositional optimism

If you are a 'dispositional optimist' already, you are likely to live a long time. You want to be sure that your experiences in your extra years will the best. You may want to read "How to grow younger as you age" at Anti-aging tips: Getting younger each year

To read more about longevity itself, click on Longevity helps


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