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Positive Outlook Improves Quality of Life as We Get Older

Updated on March 10, 2017
Natalie Frank profile image

Natalie Frank (Taye Carrol), a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, publishes on multiple topics in health, behavioral science, and other fields.

Research Shows Benefits of Positive Thinking for Older Adults

To date, there has been a great deal of research on how aging adults respond to stress and what makes them cope better but the results have been equivocal. Some research has demonstrated that older adults cope better with stress than younger adults, some have shown they cope worse and still others have shown no difference between the two groups. New research from North Carolina State has now demonstrated that at least some of these differences could be accounted for by attitude, in particular having a positive outlook. They intended to determine whether there were benefits tied specifically to participants attitudes about aging.

Researchers at North Carolina State examined whether older adults who viewed aging in more optimistic terms were more resilient or coped better with stress than older adults with poor outlooks toward aging. Participants were asked a series of questions such as whether they felt as useful now as they had when they when they were younger and whether they felt as happy now as when they were younger. They were also asked about stress they had experienced that day. Researchers measured the extent to which participants suffered from negative emotions such as fear, irritability, anxiety or distress and their personality style in terms of how optimistic they were.

Results showed that those participants who had more positive outlooks about aging demonstrated greater resilience when faced with stressful life circumstances. In other words. Stress did not lead to significant increases in negative emotions. Those with negative outlooks showed a sharp spike in negative emotions when they were faced with stress.

Implications for Our Everyday Lives

This study demonstrated that the way we think about aging can affect how well we deal with stress as we age. This process can be viewed as being a big cycle. We are aware that stress affects our moods and physical functioning and that our moods and physical functioning effect how we cope with stress. We also know that the negative experience of stress can alter our immune system functioning and make us more susceptible to illness which further affects our moods. Yet above all this, is our outlook on life or our way of viewing and thinking about our world. Positivity and an optimistic outlook can put up a barrier to prevent stress from becoming a problem for us, perhaps it may not seem to at first but the more we practice being positive and optimistic about our life, the more effects of stress this process will block out. The way we think about our life and our world also alters how we experience physical problems and negative events and thus our moods. Learning to think more positively about things in our lives which can often entail a certain degree of acceptance while not letting acceptance provide an excuse to not live our lives to the utmost can help us experience an exceptional quality of life throughout our lifetimes.

Positive Outlooks Mean Positive Aging
Positive Outlooks Mean Positive Aging

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When you feel the effects of stress, what are you most likely to do?

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How to Stay Positive as We Age

  1. Look for the bright side of everything. This often means training ourselves to look for the good in every situation. It is easy to complain about what is not going right but harder to appreciate all that is going right. This can be especially difficult for those who have health concerns and/or are living alone. Keeping a journal can help. Make a point of writing down everything you can that is positive about your day from the small to the large. It may feel like you only have very small things to include at first like “I got a good nights sleep” or “I was able to walk to the mailbox to pick up the mail.” The more you practice this though the more you will see that is positive about your life. The next step is how to find the positive in problems situations. You may ask, “How do I find something good about my toilet overflowing?” Well perhaps it didn’t flood the whole house, it got a friend or relative to visit to see what was going on, or you had a nice conversation with the person who came out to fix it. There are always good points to take hold of even if they may seem insignificant compared to the negatives. By re-training ourselves to look at the positives eventually this will become our everyday mindset.
  2. Stay connected. While we all like our alone time, too much alone time can become a problem. Research has shown time and time again that social support is the strategy that is most effective at helping us cope with practically every hardship in life. Social interactions can help us feel more positively in general and better about our life no matter what age. Work to keep up with friends and relatives and find new outlets for meeting new people be it through a club or volunteer work or simply striking up a conversation with someone in the lobby of the building where you live. Keep informed of the news and developments and make sure to stay involved with your community.
  3. Keep your brain active. It is important to engage in activities which make our brains think. We need not only physical challenges for our bodies but also mental challenges to keep our brains fit. Keeping our minds active can help us succeed at positive aging throughout our lifetime. It doesn’t have to be something particularly hard. Even simple activities such as reading a good book, doing sudoku or crosswords puzzles, or brain teasers can help our minds stay alert. We are all experts at something so perhaps try answering questions from others on such sites as Quora, Metafliter or Yahoo Answers. Sites like these also have a social component, another benefit. Do what you love which will also help exercise your mind through activities such as reading, writing, conversation and debate.
  4. Adopt a healthy lifestyle. You have likely heard this message a billion times during your life. Remember, though, that healthy eating, moderate sleep, weight management drinking only small amounts of alcohol and refraining smoking can help you to feel full of energy and ready to take on each new day.
  5. Create positive emotions for yourself. Experiencing positive emotions is good for your body, your mental health, and for how you relate to the world around you. Engage in things that will trigger positive emotions regularly and not only when you aren't feeling your best. Being optimistic and feeling good about yourself and the world around you can help you to cope with life's challenges.
  6. Don’t sweat the small stuff. You don't have to do everything alone. Accept what you have difficulty doing and ask for help. Maybe you worry you will become a burden to others but most people enjoy the opportunity to help those they care about. Go out of your way to help others as well which will help you accept the help when you need it.
  7. Set goals and take control of what it takes to reach them. It is important to have goals in life and to make them happen. This means finding goals you can take complete control for and working towards achieving them. When we are in control of areas of our life we have a sense of mastery and competence which leads to further accomplishments. This provides a sense of purpose and something to continue working towards. One major aspect of positive aging is the ability to maintain control of important aspects of your life.
  8. Maintain regular physical activity. Physical activity help us feel better physical and mentally. While everyone’s health is different almost everyone can create some sort of physical activity program to do on a daily basis. (Make sure to check with your health care professional before engaging in any physical activity). Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Take a break through your day and do some chair exercises, chair yoga, stretching, standing or balance exercises. Try some of the links below to get you started.

Chair Exercises

Balance

Stretching

Flexibility, Mobility, Range of Motion

Yoga

Senior Men Socializing
Senior Men Socializing

Summary and Conclusions

Everybody wants a happy life and active lifestyle. By taking control of our lives especially through the way we think, our outlook and attitudes, we can continue to feel good physically, mentally and emotionally throughout our lifetime by decreasing negative and disruptive emotions from stress. While people talk about decreasing and eliminating stress in our lives, stress is often something we have no control over. What we can control is how we view stressful situations and how we react to them in our thoughts and responses. The way we think effects the way we feel and the way we act, and the way we feel and act effects the way we think. It may seem a bit foreign to some of us to practice always looking for the silver lining. The good news is that when this becomes a habit, when coupled with some of the techniques above, every component impacts every other such that over time acting on one aspect of the system leads to multiple changes and a notable improvement in quality of life though decreased negative emotionality. It just takes the decision to make the first step.

Video on Mind Body Effects of Thoughts on Seniors Coping with Stress

Senior Women Socializing
Senior Women Socializing

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    • Natalie Frank profile image
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      Natalie Frank 7 months ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks Louise - Glad you enjoyed it!

    • louise-barraco profile image

      Louise Barraco 7 months ago from Ontario

      This Hub is very useful for everyone. I loved it

    • Natalie Frank profile image
      Author

      Natalie Frank 9 months ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks so much! I hope my hubs will continue to be of interest to you!

    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind 9 months ago from USA

      You're my kind of hubber! I love the message and the quality of your work. More!

    • Natalie Frank profile image
      Author

      Natalie Frank 10 months ago from Chicago, IL

      I'm glad that you like it and appreciate the comments. Thanks for the input. Physical exercise is important for keeping us physically and emotionally healthy and help us maintain a positive outlook no matter what stage of life we are in. Good luck in all your future endeavors. I hope there are other articles of mine you would enjoy reading.

    • Leonard Tillerman profile image

      Leonard Tillerman 10 months ago from Toronto, Canada

      This is a wonderful article. I used to be a very negative thinker. I could basically interpret anything anyone said as negative. I have made a deliberate attempt to change that and utilize many of the strategies you suggest. I can confirm first hand that they work wonders. Physical exercise (running) works the best for me.

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 15 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      Yes, it's been good chatting with you, Natalie. Hope you enjoy writing for HubPages. Blessings!

    • Natalie Frank profile image
      Author

      Natalie Frank 15 months ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks for the comments and all your help! Take care. I'm sure I'll be seeing you around!

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 15 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      Yes, I am monetized. I don't know how long it was before I could sign up for adsense. I thought I signed up right away, but just not sure. Guess that is another area I could use some more info. Thanks for the kind words, Natalie. Hope all goes well for you.

    • Natalie Frank profile image
      Author

      Natalie Frank 15 months ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks, you too. I love your commentary if I haven't told you recently. Are you monetized yet? How long before you were able to sign up for adsence?

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 15 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      I think having a lot of useful support media for the hubs probably helps increase the score. My main interest in to provide commentaries for poems and any info that I think might be helpful to readers. It's probably a waste of effort being very concerned about a "score." But, of corse, we all would like to have as high a score as we can muster. Have a great and blessed day, Natalie!

    • Natalie Frank profile image
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      Natalie Frank 15 months ago from Chicago, IL

      I guess many of us kept holding out hope even when it went to a year. I just hope since I can't get any of them up in any way online, that I can assume they are gone and change them enough to use them here. A lot of them would be outdated and I wouldn't want to update them since it would seem forced but there were some I'd like to have up somewhere and I have been impressed so far by this sight though it's tough to find a topic that hasn't been done to death. I suppose if it's written well enough though it will still go up with a high score. Still not sure what the answers do for scores if anything. I don't see any kind of indication so they are likely just good citizen type of stuff.

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 15 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      It is a mystery what affects our rankings, and you might have discovered a conversation about that issue. I need to become more acquainted with many of the features of this site. It keeps me pretty busy just getting stuff up and responding to comments every now and then. But I know there is much to learn about HubPages, and I hope to get to it soon.

      Sorry, that you are still in such a bind about your Suite articles. I was so lucky to have left when I did.

    • Natalie Frank profile image
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      Natalie Frank 15 months ago from Chicago, IL

      Yes - if you go under explore there's a tab labeled "answers" where you can answer questions. I just don't know if they have anything to do with rankings etc. I can't seem to find info on it. I am still googling my suite pieces and finding nothing anywhere. Once in a while it will go back to the suite site but just give me the big blue "hi" screen. This is really frustrating.

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 15 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      I'm not sure what that is, guess I need to do some more exploring?

    • Natalie Frank profile image
      Author

      Natalie Frank 15 months ago from Chicago, IL

      Got it. Are you answering questions any and do they get scored also or are they just for the good of community and those asking?

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 15 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      A Hub is an article, they are not grouped. Admin will place hubs in niches randomly. For example, they have put some of my hubs in Letterpile.

    • Natalie Frank profile image
      Author

      Natalie Frank 15 months ago from Chicago, IL

      Do you somehow gather your articles together under one hub by topic like we did at Suite? Of is hub just another name for article? It's hard to tell and I don't see a way of grouping.

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 15 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      I don't know of any private mailbox. When I first signed up, it had me use a pen name but also add my real name. Maybe the sign up process changed.

    • Natalie Frank profile image
      Author

      Natalie Frank 15 months ago from Chicago, IL

      I asked them how you do that. I have a pen name I publish fiction under and would like to use it here but am unaware how to go about it. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Also, is there a private mailbox here for messages that aren't seen by everyone?

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 15 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      Same here, Natalie! I see you are not using a pen name. I couldn't figure out how to do that when I first started. Just glad I had a ready pseudonym I could use. Blessings, Linda

    • Natalie Frank profile image
      Author

      Natalie Frank 15 months ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks Maya! You are my first comment. Now that I am on Hubpages I hope to have a lot of interaction with you. Looking forward to reading your new work and hearing your comments on my own. I'll be stopping by regularly.

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 15 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      Natalie, a very useful and well reasoned Hub. Hope you enjoy publishing here.

      Have a blessed day,

      Linda Sue Grimes (Maya Shedd Temple)