Optimists Live Longer
Why You Should Look on the Bright Side
Even in times like these, remember to look at the bright side of life. Research at Harvard’s School of Public Health shows that optimists’ odds of living to 85 or longer are more than 50 percent greater than pessimists. Optimists tend to bounce back from difficulties more readily. Perhaps it’s because optimistic people are better able to regulate their emotions. And they have healthier habits – they are more likely to exercise, eat well, and less likely to smoke.
Live Longer with Healthy Habits
In my county, Marin County, California, living to 85 is the norm, and all of us want a future where we live to that age or longer. I’m pleased that my neighbors are applying healthy habits and helping to “flatten the curve” during the Covid-19 pandemic by sheltering in place and practicing social distancing. One way I know my county is doing a good job is by looking at published GPS tracking data. Other than going to the grocery story, my neighbors are staying home, and thus, less likely to contract the virus or spread it.
Keep Your Spirits High
To stay healthy and optimistic, we’ve found ways to keep our spirits high. We connect every evening at 8 PM for The Howl. Up and down the hills, from all directions, I hear my neighbors making coyote-like howls, which keep us connected in dark times.
Connection is what it’s all about now. We meet online for Zoom chats; we send each other photos and our latest drawings; we call friends we haven’t spoken with in years; and we exchange jokes and cartoons on Facebook and Instagram. Have you seen this one?
My Self-Isolation Quarantine Diary
- Day 1 – I Can Do This!! Got enough food and wine to last a month!
- Day 2 – Opening my 8th bottle of Wine. I fear wine supplies might not last!
- Day 3 – Strawberries: Some have 210 seeds, some have 235 seeds. Who Knew??
- Day 4 – 8:00pm. Removed my Day Pajamas and put on my Night Pajamas.
- Day 5 – Today, I tried to make Hand Sanitizer. It came out as Jello Shots!!
- Day 6 – I get to take the Garbage out. I’m So excited, I can’t decide what to wear.
- Day 7 – Laughing way too much at my own jokes!!
- Day 8 – Went to a new restaurant called “The Kitchen”. You have to gather all the ingredients and make your own meal. I have No clue how this place is still in business.
- Day 9 – I put liquor bottles in every room. Tonight, I’m getting all dressed up and going Bar hopping.
- Day 10 – Struck up a conversation with a Spider today. Seems nice. He’s a Web Designer.
- Day 11 – Isolation is hard. I swear my fridge just said, “What the hell do you want now?”
- Day 12 – I realized why dogs get so excited about something moving outside, going for walks or car rides. I think I just barked at a squirrel.
- Day 13 – If you keep a glass of wine in each hand, you can’t accidentally touch your face.
- Day 14 – Watched the birds fight over a worm. The Cardinals lead the Blue Jays 3–1.
- Day 15 – Anybody else feel like they’ve cooked dinner about 395 times this month? IS THIS YOU, yet?
Artificial Intelligence May Save Us
On a more serious – but still optimistic – note, some of us are attending online conferences where we discuss the future. Attending Stanford University’s April 1st conference on Artificial Intelligence gave me some hope.
- Some politicians see progress being made on global health security coordination and tracking
- We’re learning how changes in public policy and greater transparency could help us better respond to future biological threats and diseases
- Using AI we’re making better predictions and can better track how the virus spreads
- Biomedical informatics is making it easier to use existing data, including GPS cell phone data, for surveillance
- Medical doctors are sharing global best practices
- Researchers are discovering ways to treat patients at home using cameras and smart sensors
- AI is being used to identify vaccine candidates
- Finally, we’re waking up to the need for a healthy planet, because if we continue with climate change and deforestation, animals will continue to get sick, and they will make us sick again
Let’s be optimistic about the future. Stay well and safe.
Recently a reporter from a new website for Boomers – www.considerable.com – interviewed me about coaching people over 50 and finding life balance. He wondered what’s different at this age. I told him that almost everything changes. This graphic covers much of it.
You may feel lonely if you are no longer working; you may be an empty-nester; loved ones may have passed on; you may be less healthy; you may have unstructured time; you may want to have a new sense of purpose and meaning… and so on. When this happens, it’s valuable to work with a coach to look at ways to re-balance your life.
My coaching clients look at which areas of life are most important now and consider how to allocate their time in the future to achieve the right balance. An easy way to do this is to draw a circle or pie and slice up the pie to show how your time is spent now. Then draw a second pie and slice it up to show the way you want to spend your time in the future. Look at these elements in your life and decide which you want to expand or change:
- work (paid or volunteer)
- family and relationships
- leisure and physical activities
- personal pursuits – creativity and education
- spiritual pursuits
- integrate healthy habits into all of this
Ask yourself: How satisfied am I with each of these elements? How can I increase my satisfaction?
I have tools that can help with this process. Just send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or give me a call (415-328-6514) to arrange a coaching session. Or attend a “Reinvent Yourself after 50” workshop – click the link for information on the next one.
In my coaching practice I’m seeing a trend. Many of my clients tell me they can’t stop thinking. Their minds are racing or going in circles. And concentration is difficult.
What they want is to clear their minds and feel calm. There are lots of reasons that our minds race. Fortunately, there are proven ways to calm the mind and to feel peaceful and focused.
The main “tool” I recommend to others and the tool I use myself is meditation. I’ve found that listening daily to 3-minute guided meditations is easy, practical and effective. You can find them online. One of my favorite sites is www.headspace.com. If you look under apps on your cell phone, you’ll find lots of options. My book also contains a helpful meditation. Combine your meditation with a daily walk, and I promise that after a week or so, you’ll feel more positive about life and happier. It’s all about the breath. Focused breathing is the panacea.
Just look at psychology publications to see what researchers have found. Studies show meditation:
- Reduces stress
- Improves concentration
- Improves self-awareness
- Increases self-acceptance
- Increases happiness (this is connected to self-awareness and acceptance)
- May reduce age-related memory loss
- Increases relaxation and causes blood pressure to drop
- Improves the immune system and reduces inflammation
- Increases a sense of connection to others
- Makes you more compassionate
So, if you want to improve your life, breathe deeply and meditate daily.
These photos say it all. Hiking in the Canadian Rockies and Purcell Mountains in British Columbia is awe-inspiring. I came home feeling joyful and grateful, but tired. It’s hard to top spending a week with dear friends from my hiking club surrounded by spectacular scenery. We hiked, drove, cooked and stayed together in a big barn. The encouragement and support of the group made it possible to hike 10 to 12 miles a day on steep switchbacks climbing up over 2500 feet.
One of my friends fell and broke her arm. Undeterred – with her arm in a cast – she made it to the summit of every trail we took. Very inspiring. And by the way, our group has hikers in their 50s, 60s and mid-70s.
If you can, get outdoors into the beauty of nature. Your soul will respond to seeing wildflowers, waterfalls, meadows and forests. Take a walk under trees or near water. You’ll clear your mind and feel fabulous.
If you have a high school reunion coming up, GO. If it’s your 50th reunion, don’t hesitate. The 50th reunion is probably the last reunion. It’s sad to say, but some of your classmates won’t be alive…or won’t be able to travel in another 10 years.
I just returned from my 50th reunion at Abington High School in a suburb of Philadelphia. When the reunion was announced, I was the first to RSVP. I live 3000 miles from many of my high school friends, and this was a chance to see everyone at once. With Facebook, it’s been great to catch up with so many of my classmates, but it’s not the same as face-to-face. When seeing friends in person, the good memories come flooding back. And, at this stage of life, the bad memories of feeling excluded (by people in some cliques) have long faded away.
The reunion was an opportunity to remember my childhood on the East Coast. I decided to make the event into an adventure by plane, train and subway. I wanted to see the 911 museum in New York and take an in-depth look at Washington D.C. I’m glad I did. Even two weeks was not enough time to see the many monuments, gardens, museums and cultural events on my bucket list.
After the “high” I felt in New York city with it’s great energy, I was not let down in Philadelphia. My high school pals have matured into relaxed, interesting, fun-loving older adults. We picked up where we left off so many years ago. Everyone was welcoming.
We’re at a great age. Yes, it’s true that there was a wide variation in how well we aged. I recognized almost everyone I used to “hang with.” They looked energetic and fabulous. The surprise was that some classmates are using canes and walkers.
It’s truly eye-opening to see that even as early as the sixties, if you don’t have good genes and don’t live a healthy lifestyle, your decline will already be apparent. It’s another reminder to stay active and engage with life. And to reinvent yourself.
Some years ago, shortly after my father and brother passed away, I hit a low point and saw a therapist at Kaiser Permanente. He recommended a YouTube video of Albert Ellis, an influential American Psychologist who died in 2007. Ellis is best known for developing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). When I applied REBT to my situation, I felt much better. Now, when I have negative thoughts, I use REBT – because it works.
I’ve found Ellis’ approach to be highly effective for coaching clients. Men and women quickly see how their thoughts have blocked them from success. For example, one client had a problem with his foot. He blamed himself and said that perhaps he deserved to suffer. When he examined his belief, he saw that it was irrational. He “de-catastrophized” the situation, found the energy to look for new options by talking to people who could help, and tried a therapy that eventually healed his foot.
Here’s the approach:
Albert Ellis’ ABCDEs of Adversity
A – Adversity happens
B – What is your belief or thought about it? Is the belief logical? Rational? What would be a more helpful belief?
C – Consequences – What did you feel or do?
D – Dispute the feeling. De-catastrophize it: What is the evidence? It’s not a big deal in the scheme of things Look at alternatives Look for greater meaning – nation, God, family, a cause, volunteering, charity
E – Energy – feel energized. Take action
How can you apply this is in your life? If you are working on an issue, let’s meet for a private coaching session. It’s time to move forward.
I recently read the book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink. If you want to know the best time of day to get results and the benefits of napping, this is a must read. He has a chapter on endings, including what he calls “Act Three” of life – where we “sharpen our red pencils and scratch out anyone or anything non-essential.” Research shows that as we age, we edit out people who are less emotionally meaningful.
Here’s something to try when you’re in a slump. Mr. Pink shares a technique he learned from four social psychologists. This process is inspired by the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
- Think about something positive in your life – your relationship, your child, a career achievement, your home
- List all the circumstances that made it possible – a friend’s suggestion, a class you took, a party you attended
- Write down all the events and decisions that might never have happened – you didn’t go to the party or take the class
- Now remind yourself that life did go your way. Think about the happy random events that did happen. Be grateful for your good fortune. Life is pretty wonderful.
Try this technique and post a comment on how it worked for you. I did feel wonderful when I tried it.
Following are some of the topics we discuss in the Reinvent Yourself after 50 workshops. See how many of these tips you can incorporate into your life. Let me know which ones are helping you feel greater joy and fulfillment.
Explore subjects that interest you and see where it leads. Read, use Google, take workshops, attend lectures.
Have a Supportive Community
We all need community. Studies show you’ll live longer and feel better if you have a good social life. Meet people who lift you up and spend time with them. I’ve found that Meetup.com is a good way to meet who enjoy the activities that you enjoy.
Live a Balanced Life
You will be happier if you find the right balance of work (paid or volunteer), relationships, leisure, creativity, learning, and spiritual pursuits. What do you need more of? What do you need less of in life?
Leisure is a vital part of living a balanced life. Take time to relax and recharge. Your brain requires this.
Get outside as often as possible. The sun, greenery and water are all nurturing. My yellow, green and blue logo symbolizes these essential elements of nature.
Be Healthy – stay active and eat well
Exercise releases endorphins which make you feel good. You’ll feel better and be healthier if you keep moving and eat healthy foods (and never smoke).
Each day write down a few of the things you’re grateful for. When you see the good in the world, you feel happier. It’s that simple.
Keep a Bucket List
Pay attention to your ideas about things you’d like to do. (Sometimes feeling jealous of others is an indication of something we need or want to do.) People who write down and follow-up on their bucket lists are more likely to fulfill their dreams. Create a life you’ll love.
New places and cultures (even if they are close to home) introduce us to new ideas and perspectives. Travel beyond your usual stomping ground to feel inspired and energized.
Feel Passion and Purpose
Find time for activities that make a difference to others. This work will add meaning and purpose to your own life.
My friend Harry was laid off from his job at the age of 64. He took some time to think about his future….and then took some more time. His savings were slim, so he said he would look for another job. I’m not sure if he looked. I do know that he spent a lot of time on his computer, going to movies by himself, and watching TV. Mostly he was alone. Then he got sick. Then his cognitive thinking declined. He was depressed and isolated. He is one of the reasons I created the “Reinvent Yourself after 50” workshop. I want to help people feel fulfilled, joyful, and passionate, whether they are working or not.
For many people the most difficult aspect of leaving the workforce is losing daily interaction with work colleagues and the people you meet when you’re at work – the coffee barista, the bus driver, the cashier at the deli. In the workshop we discuss the many benefits of social integration and how to ensure we don’t lose it. This video demonstrates why our relationships are paramount to our longevity and to having fulfilling lives.
What does it take to live for 100 years? These are the surprising predictors of a long, healthy life.
Susan Pinker at TED2017 – The secret to living longer may be your social life