Want to Live 12 Years Longer? A 30-Year Study Says Embracing an Optimism Mindset Is a Major Predictor of Longevity

In business, longevity matters. Overnight success stories aside, starting and building a business that lasts takes time. Time to develop a great team of outstanding employees. Time to make lasting connections, forge lasting partnerships, and build long-term relationships with loyal customers.

Even if you’re not an entrepreneur: Who doesn’t hope to live as long and healthy a life as possible?

Problem is, the recommendation bar for living a longer life can seem impossibly high. 

One study found you need between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity to “mitigate” the risk of death associated with sitting. Another study found you need to jog five days a week for 30 to 40 minutes a pop in order for your body to have the “age progression” of someone nine years younger.

But then there’s this. Two studies, one that spanned ten years and the other thirty years, found that “high optimism” was linked to 11 to 15 percent longer lifespans, even after taking into account factors like health and socioeconomic status. 

Among psychosocial factors that appear to be potential health assets (e.g., social integration), optimism has some of the strongest and most consistent associations with a wide range of health outcomes, including reduced risk of cardiovascular events, lung function decline, and premature mortality.

Investigators have speculated that optimism may facilitate healthier bio-behavioral processes, and ultimately longevity, because optimism directly contributes to how goals are translated into behaviors.

“Social integration” directly correlates with living longer; a clinical review of nearly 150 studies found that people with strong social ties had a 50 percent better chance of survival, regardless of age, sex, health status, and cause of death, than those with weaker ties.

Make and keep a few close friends, you’ll likely live longer.

Optimism also directly correlates with living longer, since optimistic people tend to behave differently: While everyone has goals, people who fall on the less optimistic end of the spectrum are much less likely to try to achieve their goals.

Why start a journey that feels impossible? 

On the flip side, “optimism directly contributes to how goals are translated into behaviors.” When the journey seems possible, starting feels much easier.

All of which is good news for entrepreneurs.

The Power of Optimism

In Bounce, Matthew Syed quotes retired soccer manager Arsene Wenger on how great athletes think:

To perform to your maximum you have to teach yourself to believe with an intensity that goes way beyond logical justification.

No top performer has lacked this capacity for irrational optimism; no sports(person) has played to their potential without the ability to remove doubt from their mind.

The same is true for entrepreneurs — and, really, for everyone. Be smart, be logical, be rational and calculating, and never stop trying to improve your skills. But most importantly, be optimistic.

Because optimism — and its affect on the way you think and work and persevere — can help you succeed in ways capital, business plans, and marketing savvy cannot.

Still. I know what you’re thinking. “Okay, so I should be more optimistic. But it’s not like I can just flip a switch.”

How to Be More Optimistic

Research shows that approximately 25 percent of our optimism set-point is genetic. That means 75 percent of your level of optimism can be shaped and learned. 

In one study, participants who spent 5 minutes a day for two weeks imagining their “best possible self” (in terms of professional, relationship, and personal goals) experienced significant increases in optimism.

If visualization isn’t your thing — it definitely isn’t mine — try another approach. If, as Jim Rohn says, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, simply spend more time with optimistic people. They’ll be more encouraging. They’ll be more supportive. Their enthusiasm will naturally rub off on you. 

If spending time in groups isn’t your thing — it kind of isn’t mine — then take a step back and think about your mindset. Generally speaking, people fall into two camps. Those with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence, ability, and skill are inborn and relatively fixed. That we are what we were born with.

Someone with a fixed mindset might say, “I didn’t handle that well. I’m not cut out to be a leader.”

People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence, ability, and skill can be developed through effort. That we are what we work to become. Someone with a growth mindset might say, “I didn’t handle that well… but next time I’ll make sure I’m more prepared.” 

People who embrace a growth mindset believe success is based on effort and application, not innate talent. 

That makes them more optimistic. 

And will help them live longer, healthier lives.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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