We Are What We Think Back »

Written by Bethany Stoutamire (Former SDSU Extension Aging in Place Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA Member) under the direction and review of Leacey E. Brown.

We have all heard the phrase “you are what you eat”, but research also suggests that we are what we think. As it was mentioned in the previous article, negative attitudes about older adults and the process of aging can actually impact how we age. One study done by researchers at Yale and Miami University found that thinking positively about getting older extended one’s life expectancy by seven and a half years. For reference, studies suggests that low cholesterol can add 4 years to our life expectancy. While some people may be predisposed to look at the glass as half empty, our personalities aren’t as rigid as we may think they are. Below are four exercises to create a more positive outlook.

Practice Forgiveness

Forgiveness is not reconciliation or forgetting about harm caused, rather it is about letting go of resentment or vengeance toward the being that caused us injury. Holding on to our anger keeps us in flight or fight mode, resulting in higher blood pressure and heart rate (which may explain why those who are more forgiving live longer). Practicing forgiveness of others also helps us forgive ourselves, instead of beating ourselves up over a mistake we’ve made.

Cultivate Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude allows us to better focus on the things that go well as opposed to the things that went poorly. To cultivate gratitude, we can keep a journal to write down three different things each night or morning that we’re grateful for. It is hard to feel envious or jealous when we remember all we have to be grateful for. It is also important to say thank you Letting others know how much they are valued will make them feel good and may also inspire someone else to practice gratitude.

Create a Positive Environment

It is much easier to think positively when we create a positive environment for ourselves. We should try to surround ourselves with positive people and be conscience of the music, movies, and social media we consume. While social media offers the chance to stay in touch with families and friends, it also opens the door to compare our life to the airbrushed, seemingly perfect lives of others. If we find ourselves constantly rolling our eyes at political posts or feeling inadequate in the midst of perfect pictures, it may be best to take a social media break or to set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes so we don’t inadvertently spend two mindless hours on social media.

Treat Your Mental Health Like Your Physical Health

Marathon runners and other athletes do all they can to eat well and keep themselves in top shape, but even they catch colds. It’s important to recognize that positive thinking isn’t a cure all for all of life’s stressors. Mental illnesses such as depression can be caused by a cocktail of factors such as genetics, hormones, life events, medicinal side effects and even the weather. A cold isn’t indicative of being weak willed and neither is depression. It’s just as important to pay attention to our mood and mind as it is pay attention to our body and to get help when we need it.

Creating a positive attitude is a critical component of aging, but there are many other important factors to help us create longer and better quality lives. Stay tuned to our next article to learn about more steps we can take to age gracefully.

Cultivating a Healthy Life Series:

References & Additional Readings

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