Having a Positive Focus Increases Longevity (The Nun Study)
Studies show that maintaining a positive attitude and positive emotions results in greater health and longevity.
One particular study followed nuns, using their childhood journals to rate the nuns’ positivity levels. Many years later the nuns with positive attitudes were shown to live longer and maintain their health longer than those with less positive attitudes. “The Nun Study” is considered especially reliable because the subjects’ vocation (being a Nun) meant they shared many more lifestyle factors than is usually found in study participants, allowing for other variables to be ruled out as causing the differences in aging and health deterioration. Family history was considered when comparing the experiences of the nuns.
This study also speaks to the causative nature of happiness contributing to longer lives since the Nuns could not have known in their youth that they would live longer. The longer life did not cause the higher level of positivity.
The less positive nuns not only died an average of 10 years earlier, their health deteriorated further in advance of death. For example, a positive nun might have begun experiencing debilitating illnesses 2 - 3 years prior to death (or not at all) while the more negatively focused nuns began experiencing debilitating illnesses many years prior to death resulting in even fewer years of quality life. For many this addresses a health risk that is often found surrounded by more fear than death itself which is inevitable, eventually, for all of us. That factor is the fear of not being able to care for oneself or being confined to a nursing home. The greater positivity reduces this risk.
Citation: Danner, D.D., D.A. Snowdon, and W.V. Friesen (2001), “Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 80: 804-13
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© Jeanine Broderick