When it comes to living longer, healthier lives, attitude may have more to do with it than we think. Scientific evidence suggests that our attitude has a strong impact on how long we live. Number 6 on our list of tips for longevity is to develop a positive outlook.
Ellen G. White wrote, “Disease is sometimes produced, and is often greatly aggravated, by the imagination. Many are lifelong invalids who might be well if they only thought so. Many imagine that every slight exposure will cause illness, and the evil effect is produced because it is expected. Many die from disease the cause of which is wholly imaginary.”1 Oh, the power of our thoughts! Can our thinking and outlook really determine how long we live?
Science shows that Mrs. White was correct. Today science tells us that what we think regarding our health does have a very real impact on it. In fact, when researchers from Yale Medical School studied 2,800 men and asked them to rate their own health, those who rated their health as “poor” were six times more likely to die earlier than those who considered their health to be “excellent.”2 Five other studies show similar results, looking at data from more than 23,000 people between the ages of 19 and 94.3
Our minds are powerful, and we sometimes forget that they can create physical changes in our bodies which may bring about disease and accelerate death. A well-known example of the power of our thoughts is “the placebo effect,” which researchers find may account for 25-35 percent of the initial beneficial effects of medication. The placebo effect occurs when a person is given what he or she believes is medicine, but it is merely a harmless sugar pill. Because people believe the pill will help them, it does.
Researchers also found that in the treatment of cancer patients, a healthcare provider with an optimistic explanatory style that fostered hope was associated with a 50 percent decreased risk of mortality or early death.4 This study suggests that for those patients, having hope for a cure improved their chances of living longer.
God wishes for us to use this power in our brains to protect ourselves from many diseases so we can live full lives and better serve Him. We know that a positive outlook can help prevent and treat depression, the leading cause of disability worldwide. Depression is a common mental disorder; symptoms include feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep, changes in appetite, low energy, poor concentration—all of which may increase the risk of disease and mortality. These problems can become chronic or recurrent and can lead to substantial impairment in an individual’s ability to serve God or manage everyday responsibilities. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, resulting in the loss of about 850,000 lives every year. Depression is as common among spiritual leaders and people of faith as it is in the world at large, affecting people regardless of gender, age, or background.5 In many cases professional help is needed, but an underlying pessimism or inaccurate perception may be the root of the problem. However, there is evidence that helping people develop a positive and realistic outlook through cognitive behavioral therapy can help bring about a lasting cure for depression.
The good news is that our thoughts and perceptions are within our control. We can choose to look at the glass as halffull rather than half-empty. Some may label themselves as pessimists or optimists, but the fact is that all of us can learn to nurture healthy thoughts, which will produce chemicals that reduce negative stress hormones, promote well-being, and result in longer, healthier lives. Positive thinking does require practice, but anyone can master the habit day by day.
So, when you feel discouraged about your future, your spouse, your children, church issues, your job, or your health, or when crises hit and things do not go as you expected, do not let your imagination control your thinking. Instead, choose to have a positive outlook, remembering Paul’s counsel:
“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Phil. 4:8, The Message).
Determine today to have a positive attitude. It will give you peace and joy and contribute to a longer, healthier life.
1 Ellen G. White, Ministry of Healing, 241.
2 E. Idler and K. Stanislav, “Health Perceptions and Survival: Do Global Evaluations of Health and Status Really Matter?” in Journal of Gerontology, 1991, 46 (2):S55-65.
3 Creation Health Study Guide, 190, Florida Hospital, 2009.
4 T. Maruta, et al. “Optimists vs. Pessimists: Survival Rate Among Patients Over a 30-Year Period,” in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Feb. 2000, 75 (2):140-143.
5 World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/definition/en/index.html
Katia Reinert Family Nurse Practitioner at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland, USA.