Positive Thinking - The Key to Long-Term Happiness?

Positive Thinking - The Key to Long-Term Happiness?

Emerging research suggests that positive thinking could be the key to staying healthy and happy at an older age. Scientists have found optimists who believe their life has meaning walk faster, they suffer less pain, and as they age they have a stronger grip on life.

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Those who are over 50 are more likely to judge if their life is worth living by looking at a couple different things — if they are married and if they see their friends at least once per week.

The Research

Researchers over at the University College London questioned 7,000 participants aged 50 to 90 on how meaningful they felt their lives were.

The study found that those who found their life worthwhile were 16% more likely to be married and 13% less likely to be living alone.

The study suggests that they were also 13% more likely to see friends at least once per week, and more likely to be a member of an organization from a church, social club, or neighborhood watch.

On the other hand, research shows that the participants who judged their life as meaningless or less meaningful spent almost twice the amount of time alone during the day than others — an average of more than six hours. These participants also spent at least 50 minutes or more a day watching television.

Professor Andrew Steptoe was the lead author on this study and he is from the department of behavioral science and health. He has been quoted saying “social engagement is a very important component of living a meaningful and fulfilling life for many people. Being a member of an organization may be meaningful in itself, but it can also provide social contact.”

He mentions that finding meaning in your life while you sit by yourself can be tricky — most people link happiness with their relationships.

'We were struck by how important this feeling of meaning was, with people who saw their lives as meaningful being much more healthy as well as being socially engaged,” he says.

On a Scale of 0 to 10

The study asked older people to rate how meaningful their lives were on a scale of 0 to 10. They also asked a range of other questions about their lives and found those who rated their lives the most meaningful — with a 9 or 10 — were 10% most likely to be among the highest earners.

These people also were a third less likely to be depressed, 20% likely to get good or very good sleep at night, and were less obese. They also walked faster, ate more nutritious foods, and were less likely to be disabled or suffer from chronic illnesses.

A Sense of Meaning

Experts believe that a sense of meaning gives people motivation to live a more healthy life — those who see life as most worthwhile were 11% more likely to exercise.

The results suggest that it is important to spend time with other people. In fact, those who rated their life’s meaning between zero and two spend at five hours and 18 minutes alone on an average day. Those who rated their lives higher on the scale spent on average two hours and 46 minutes alone daily.

The study also found people who were more likely to see their life as worthwhile if they did volunteer work or visiting a museum or theater every few months.

Is Television to Blame?

People who rated their life as less meaningful spent four hours and two minutes watching television in an average day. This is compared to three hours and 17 minutes for those who saw their lives as less worthwhile.

So what do the results say?

Researchers also warn that spending too much time by yourself or in front of a television may make your life feel less meaningful.

The results were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Professor Steptoe says “There seems to be a virtuous circle, as having a good relationship with others improves people's sense of meaning, which can then lead to more social activities.”

Get Out Into the World

Even though this study has been performed on participants who were in the later stages of life, there’s a lot that all of us can learn from this.

Getting out into the world, meeting people, and being of service to those in need can help improve our view on how meaningful our life is.

I personally spend a lot of time alone, but I am social online. Is that the same? I’m not sure, but I know I do feel that life is more worthwhile when I am around people who care or helping those in need.

So if there’s anything we can learn, it is that life is what we make it. We need to maintain a positive outlook on life so we can stay motivated and inspired to achieve the goals we want in life.

Don’t be afraid to go after what you dream about. You only get one chance at this life so don’t let it slip away.

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