Live Long and Be Positive

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Proverbial wisdom (from Proverbs 17:22) says, “A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones.” According to three recent studies, that’s not just good poetry, it’s good health advice as well.

A Johns Hopkins study followed 1,483 siblings from five to 25 years. In the high-risk population with a family history of heart disease, those that reported positive well-being had a nearly 1/3 reduction in risk of coronary artery disease. Those in the highest-risk population (factoring in age, gender, race, and traditional risk factors like smoking) enjoyed a nearly 50 percent risk reduction.

Study leader Lisa R. Yanek, MPH, said, “If you are by nature a cheerful person and look on the bright side of things, you are more likely to be protected from cardiac events. A happier temperament has an actual effect on disease, and you may be healthier as a result.”

A Danish study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes suggests there’s a little more to it than just being a generally happy person, though clearly that plays a part. Those chipper folks were twice as likely to exercise, had lower levels of stress hormones, and lived healthier lifestyles overall. And, over a five-year period, the exuberant demographic was 42 percent less likely to die. These numbers are further borne out by a Dutch study of 65 to 85 year olds looking at all-cause mortality over a period of nine years. It found that, compared to those with a high level of pessimism, those with a high level of optimism were 45 percent less likely to die during the duration of the study.

Patch Adams, of course, knew this a long time ago. (While much of the medical community may write him off as uncomfortably avant-garde, Patch doesn’t mind. “I’m not a doctor who is also a clown, I am a clown who is also a doctor.”) “Remember laughing?” Adams said. “Laughter enhances the blood flow to the body’s extremities and improves cardiovascular function. Laughter releases endorphins and other natural mood elevating and pain-killing chemicals, and improves the transfer of oxygen and nutrients to internal organs. Laughter boosts the immune system and helps the body fight off disease and cancer cells as well as viral, bacterial, and other infections. Being happy is the best cure of all diseases!”

Becoming more positive

If you’re a naturally dour sort, don’t be hard on yourself. Cheerfulness isn’t something you have or don’t have, or something you are or aren’t. There’s a continuum, and you can move yourself along it. Clinical psychologist SK Sharma, of Delhi, India, has the following tips:


>>Desire. You won’t make progress toward becoming a more positive person unless it’s something you truly want.

>>Be realistic. Becoming a positive person doesn’t mean you don’t have negative emotions, it’s the overall attitude that matters.

>>Experiment. Use everyday life incidents to see how you could handle them in a more positive manner. Learn to take things at face value sometimes.

>>Speech and body language. Make positive words a part of your daily vocabulary, and work on your body language so that you come across as friendly and approachable.

>>Company. Try to spend more time with positive people. It’s contagious (and so, unfortunately, is negativity).

>>Activities. Share a joke, narrate a pleasant incident, play sports, go for a run, have healthy sex—you’ll soon be bubbling with positive energy.

>>Take it easy. Certain things can’t be changed. When you accept that fact, you’ll be more at ease with yourself and those around you.

>>Learn yoga. Yoga teaches you to focus and meditate. Its health benefits have been confirmed by study after study.

>>Say “thank you.” Saying thank you makes you humble, and humble people are generally not cynical.