Smile...you could live longer and smarter

- © Glow Images, model for illustrative purposes only

“I am only grouchy and moody on days that end in Y.”

My family and I were walking the sidewalks of the Big Apple eons ago when without warning…bam! A woman smacked right into me, startling us both. Before I could get out an apology, she blurted out in a foul tone, “Watch where you’re walking, child!” I stopped myself before the words could form, “Geez, what a grouch!”

She was a character, and even decades later I can vividly remember her cantankerous demeanor. Her comment was unexpected and seemed so hurtful to the child I was then.

As I’ve aged I’ve tried to become an adult who is upbeat, no matter how difficult the day. But, there are those times when it seems I, like many of us, just can’t control my disposition.

What kind of mood are you in today? It seems a common – almost rote – question. But, it turns out that the answer to that question is very important. Maintaining a positive attitude influences longevity and boosts brain power in older adults. And an individual’s spirituality plays a big role in resiliency in later life too. Separate studies confirm these findings.

One study of 660 Ohioans over 50 found people with more positive attitudes about aging lived an average 7.5 years longer than those with more negative outlooks. That is significant. In fact according to the researchers a positive mood about aging has greater impact on longevity than any one of the following:

Lowered blood pressure

Lowered cholesterol


Weight loss

Not smoking

As reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, authors of the study offer two conclusions. One “is that negative self-perceptions can diminish life expectancy.” The other “is that positive self-perception can prolong life expectancy.”

A good attitude does not stop there. A new study supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation and appearing in the journal Cognition and Emotion, connects the power of positive mood with aiding older people in decision making and working memory. And this is important since maintaining their independence – the most important thing to most elderly – is heavily dependent on being able to remember what they need to do and to make sound decisions.

According to Ellen Peters, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, “Given the current concern about cognitive declines in the aged, our findings are important for showing how simple methods to improve mood can help improve cognitive functioning and decision performance in older adults, just like they do in younger people.”

You have to wonder, with research results like these, just how much influence one wields over his/her own health and wellness. Thoughts, emotions, outlook are all shown to impact physical and mental health. And control over these factors lies within each of us.

Keeping thoughts and emotions in check and maintaining a bright outlook has long been the purview of religiosity, faith, and spirituality. Turning to God has been a natural inclination for generations of believers when dealing with life’s trials, not only for coping purposes, but also for healing these issues. The concept/principle underneath “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee” – i.e. calm thought focused on the divine results in good – is health enhancing whether it comes from the Bible or some other sacred text.

Now a research report out of Duke University supports what many of us have long known: the potential for spirituality in contributing to resiliency in life, especially in dealing with changes connected to aging.

Women from the age of 82 to 94 were interviewed for the study. “Enduring hardship, challenge, and adversity while using their spirituality as a framework for making meaning and processing allowed them not only to cope with challenge, but also to bounce back in a manner that resulted in positive development, growth, and positive transformation,” concludes Lydia Manning from the Duke Center for Aging who conducted the project.

All in all, these studies and other research indicate mechanisms available to us 24/7 in the quest for wellness and contentedness. What we think and how we act are things we can control. When the daily grind or clashes with others puts us out of sorts we can stop rehearsing the negative impulses and concentrate on the good in our lives. It’s doable and life enhancing. Smile. It’s better than being a grouch any day of the week.


Steve Salt is a syndicated health blogger and a Christian Science teacher and practitioner. This post was originally published on the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Follow him on twitter @saltseasoned.

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