As we think about retirement, we also think about getting older. Whilst it would be nice to live to a ‘ripe old age’ most of us want to remain in good health. Alas, although people are living longer it is not always in good health and the number of years lost to disability has increased.
I’ve been researching personality factors that can help in adjusting to retirement and optimism is one factor that can help us to live longer. It’s referred to as ‘dispositional optimism’, the generalised expectation that good things will happen.
Longitudinal research by Lee and colleagues (2019), with follow up after 10 years with one group and 30 years with the other found that optimism is associated with a number of health benefits including reduced risk of cardiovascular events, lung function decline, and reduced risk of mortality.
Research by Kim and colleagues (2019) found that after adjusting for sociodemographic factors and depression, the most (top quartile) versus least (bottom quartile) optimistic participants had a 24% increased likelihood of maintaining healthy ageing. Healthy ageing was defined as having good cognitive and physical function with no major chronic diseases.
Optimistic people recover faster from stressful situations and are more likely to reframe difficulties as challenges rather than threats. They are more likely to have goals and the confidence to reach them.
Optimists are also more likely to demonstrate healthier behaviours and to be more proactive in taking care of their health such as being more physically active, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and taking their medication, although the evidence for the impact of these healthy behaviours was only modest.
I’m the person who was told I was just like Pollyanna, and took it as a complement, so optimism comes easy to me. It is partly down to our family and upbringing, and 23-32% can be seen of as heritable. But if it doesn’t come easy to you, you can learn strategies to help. This can be cognitive behavioural techniques, keeping a gratitude journal, writing a list of things that you are grateful for, practice positive affirmations.
You can also visualise your best possible self – in all aspects of your life. Imagining your ideal future can increase levels of optimism.
So, what about you? To what extent do you class yourself as an optimist? If you think of yourself as more pessimistic then why not try out one of these ideas.
Dr Denise Taylor is a Chartered Psychologist and Vision Quest Guide, specialising in retirement transitions and elderhood. Regularly featured in the media, she is the author of 8 books including Find Work at 50+ and How to get a Job in a Recession.
Lee, Lewina O.; James, Peter; Zevon, Emily S.; Kim, Eric S.; Trudel-Fitzgerald, Claudia; Spiro, Avron; Grodstein, Francine; Kubzansky, Laura D. (2019). Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in 2 epidemiologic cohorts of men and women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (), 201900712–. doi:10.1073/pnas.1900712116
Kim, Eric S; James, Peter; Zevon, Emily S; Trudel-Fitzgerald, Claudia; Kubzansky, Laura D; Grodstein, Francine (2019). Optimism and Healthy Aging in Women and Men. American Journal of Epidemiology, (), –. doi:10.1093/aje/kwz056