RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Be happy - it could make you live longer; really - it's science. Here's NPR's Patti Neighmond.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine knew if you're optimistic, you're less likely to suffer chronic disease and depression. But clinical psychologist Lewina Lee, who headed the study, wanted to know this...
LEWINA LEE: Whether optimism is related to the likelihood of exceptional longevity.
NEIGHMOND: Defined as 85 years old or older. Lee looked at medical records from two long-term research studies - one involving female nurses and the other involving males, mostly veterans. To gauge optimism, study participants were asked if they agreed with statements like this...
LEE: In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.
NEIGHMOND: Or this...
LEE: I usually expect to succeed in things that I do.
NEIGHMOND: Optimistic responses were tallied. And it turned out those who were the most optimistic lived 15% longer lives than the less optimistic. In fact, their odds of living to 85 or longer increased by as much as 70%. Now, researchers don't know exactly how optimism affects longevity. They think optimistic people tend to have goals in life. As a result, Lee says, they may be more motivated to maintain health in order to achieve those goals - things like a nutritious diet, regular exercise, no smoking. They may also be better at regulating stress.
LEE: For example, when they get into an angry confrontation, they are able to come down more quickly and feel calmer and feel more relaxed in a shorter amount of time compared to someone else who stays angry and stays agitated for longer periods of time.
NEIGHMOND: Clinical psychologist Natalie Dattilo with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston says...
NATALIE DATTILO: Optimism can be learned. If it doesn't come to you naturally, you can still learn how to think in more optimistic ways.
NEIGHMOND: In her practice, Dattilo challenges patients to think about negative situations in a different and possibly more optimistic way.
DATTILO: And just kind of try it on and try on a different attitude or a different mindset and play that out, and just see what happens.
NEIGHMOND: Skills like this can be learned, she says, and not only may patients end up happier, they may even extend their lives.
Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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