"Half full or half empty?" appears to be a more crucial question than many of us would guess.

Karla Walsh; Reviewed by Lisa Valente M.S., R.D.
November 10, 2020
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Credit: Getty / Peathegee Inc

With a global pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, economic challenges, a stressful election, shifting holiday celebrations and the anxiety surrounding the coronavirus-spreading potential of family gatherings, it can be a struggle some days to find the bright side of all of 2020. But the ability to do so—and a more "glass half full" mindset—might be a literal lifesaver.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published late last year (but more relevant than ever today), men and women who exhibited the highest levels of optimism ended up having an 11% to 15% longer lifespan compared to those who erred more on the negative side. Those who viewed the world most optimistically had the best odds of living to 85 or older, and these results held true even considering socioeconomic status, depression, health conditions, social engagement, cigarette or alcohol use or poor diet, scientists at the Boston University's School of Medicine confirmed.

Note that they don't define optimism as acting like nothing is wrong. It does, however, mean that you're able to view obstacles as temporary, something possible to overcome or even positive—and not something that you blame yourself automatically for manifesting.

"Optimistic individuals tend to have goals and the confidence to reach them. Those goals could include healthy habits that contribute to a longer life," lead author Lewina Lee, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University's School of Medicine, told CNN.

Lee's study discovered that compared to the most pessimistic of their study group, women with the highest levels of optimism were 1.5 times more likely to live to 85 or older, while the most optimistic men had 1.7 times greater odds of living to 85.

Other research has found a connection between optimism and a stronger immune system (something we're all keeping a keen eye on in 2020) and a healthier diet. Only about 25% of our optimistic or pessimistic nature is genetic, or a factor of "nature," according to a study of twins. We can "nurture" or learn the other 75%.

A few ways to view the world with more rose-colored glasses:

  • Channel your inner Oprah. By this, we don't mean make a big batch of ice pops...although you certainly could if that brings you joy! What we're referring to is that you have the best chance of living your best life (a la Oprah) if you imagine your best possible self, say, the version of you finishing that 5K race or rocking that virtual presentation at work.
  • Move your body. The hormonal changes might help you naturally feel less stressed or down.
  • Be mindful. As much as possible, rather than ruminating about past mistakes or fretting all day about the future, try to stay in the present and make the next right decision as it comes. (These self-care apps can help.)
  • Put pen to paper. It can be easy to overlook the good things happening in your life if you don't take the time to acknowledge them thoughtfully. Maybe you started your day with a great 20-minute yoga session or your grocery delivery arrived on time. Small but notable wins!