Optimism May Propel Women to a Longer Life

Upbeat outlook linked to lower risk of dying from cancer, heart disease and other causes, study says.

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 7, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Women who generally believe that good things will happen may live longer.

That’s the suggestion of a new study that seems to affirm the power of positive thinking.

“This study shows that optimism is associated with reduced risk of death from stroke, respiratory disease, infection and cancer,” said Eric Kim, co-lead author of the investigation.

“Optimistic people tend to act in healthier ways. Studies show that optimistic people exercise more, eat healthier diets and have higher quality sleep,” said Kim, a research fellow in the department of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Kim added that an upbeat outlook also may directly affect biological function. Research has demonstrated that higher optimism is linked with lower inflammation, healthier lipid levels (fats in the blood), and higher antioxidants (substances that protect cells from damage), Kim said.

“Optimistic people also use healthier coping styles,” he said. “A summary of over 50 studies showed that when confronted with life challenges, optimists use healthier coping methods like acceptance of circumstances that cannot be changed, planning for further challenges, creating contingency plans, and seeking support from others when needed.”

For this investigation, scientists reviewed records on 70,000 women who participated in a long-running health study that surveyed them every two years between 2004 and 2012. The study authors examined optimism levels and other factors that might affect the results, such as race, high blood pressure, diet and physical activity.

Overall, the risk of dying from any disease analyzed in this study was almost 30 percent less among the most optimistic women compared to the least optimistic women.

For the most optimistic women, for instance, the risk of dying from cancer was 16 percent lower; the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke or respiratory disease was almost 40 percent lower; and the risk of dying from infection was 52 percent lower, the study found.

Levels of optimism were determined from responses to statements such as “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best,” according to Kim.

While the study uncovered an association between optimism and life span, it did not prove cause and effect.

Dr. Sarah Samaan, a cardiologist at the Heart Hospital at Baylor in Plano, Texas, said healthy behaviors may help fuel optimism.

“It’s easier to feel optimistic when you feel healthy and energetic,” said Samaan, who was not involved in the research. “By choosing a healthy lifestyle, you may open yourself up to greater gratitude and create more energy for deeper relationships and professional satisfaction.”

She added that for people with depression and anxiety, medication may help to improve mental outlook and thus overall health, although this study did not address that specific issue.

The study authors noted that individual actions can promote optimism. The simple act of writing down best possible outcomes for careers, friendships and other areas of life could generate optimism and healthier futures, they suggested.

Kim described a two-week exercise where people were asked to write acts of kindness they performed that day. Another activity involved writing down things they were grateful for every day. Both these exercises were shown to increase optimism, he said.

The study was published online Dec. 7 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

SOURCES: Eric Kim, Ph.D., research fellow, department of social and behavioral sciences, department of epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Sarah Samaan, M.D., cardiologist and physician partner, Heart Hospital at Baylor in Plano, Texas; Dec. 7, 2016, American Journal of Epidemiology

Five Ways to Define Success

By Dr. Linda Seger

We all seem to want it. We all seem to seek it. “Success” seems to be the magic word for what we chase after, prepare for, choose, desire. It’s how we often define our lives. Money, fame, and power are often what we have been told make up success. If we don’t get it, we’re consumed with envy of those who do.

Some who feel they have lost this golden ring have mental breakdowns, mid-life crises, and get ill just thinking about it. Others give up, and decide that success isn’t all that important; what is important is simply having a job and keeping food on the table. Some, at the end of their lives, suddenly realize they blew it, and what they thought they had, they never had at all.

Worldview Definitions of Success

Americans tend to define success by money, and by what money can buy. We are known around the world as a rather materialistic country, always striving after things and defining success by the accoutrements that money can buy – such as our snazzy cars, the size of our homes and designer clothes. And that’s just what we get – more things. This doesn’t mean more fulfillment or contributing to make the world better in some way. It simply means more things.

Other countries define success more in terms of whether their work supports their family life. If they enjoy their work, and if it gives them an opportunity to spend time with their family and have a balanced life, they’d consider themselves successful.

For example an Israeli screenwriter was asked if she had plans to come to Los Angeles to try to break into the Hollywood film industry. She replied, “Probably not since I can’t imagine being that far away from my family.” For her, success would be defined by her ability to get her film made in Israel, without compromising her family life.

Success and Effectiveness

For some, success is defined by effectiveness. The question is: “Are they making things happen? Are they achieving project goals? Are they contributing in a way that adds value to the project?” Success for them means the project becomes better as a result of their participation. They can see the results, and feel fulfilled by their work, but also know their work fulfills others, either because the product they make is useful, or because the service they provide is helpful.

Success and Joy

Some define success by whether their job suits them and by how much joy they have as a result of their work. They define it by the joy they feel when they do the work; the joy they feel when they’ve finished the work; and by the joy that others feel as a result of their work.

If their work doesn’t add to their sense of happiness and joy of themselves and others, then no matter how much money they’ve earned or how many accolades they receive, they don’t feel successful.

This joy not only comes from their own work, but from the collaboration with other talented people who not only bring their skills to the project, but also bring harmony to the working relationship. Nobody wants to work among discord. For many, if those work relationships aren’t fulfilling and harmonious, they don’t feel good about their work, themselves, or about others.

Success and Balance

Some define success by the sense of balance they have between their work lives and the rest of their lives. For them, work is not what success is about. They believe that life needs to be balanced, and that work is not meant to be the only thing in our lives.

John Woolman, an early American abolitionist, cut back on his successful work as a tailor because he wanted to be “free of cumber.” When his work was getting so cumbersome it was controlling him and left him no time for other things of value in his life, he did not consider himself successful.

If a job is driving someone, demanding all their time, and giving them no balance between their work, physical exercise, time with their family and other relationships, and time for spiritual growth, then the balance is off and many would consider this is not living a successful life. This can lead to a frenetic lifestyle, as well as illness, family problems, and not paying attention to the values that make a good life.

Making a Difference

Ultimately, many define success by how their lives will be summed up at their funeral. Will attendees be talking about how much money the person made or perhaps even say “good riddance” to a failure as a human being?

Or will they be talking about this person’s contributions and how blessed they feel to have known this person as a friend or co-worker? For most, success is ultimately defined by the Good that has been contributed, and by what is remembered about someone who has finished the work. Has the person made a good difference?

Dr. Linda Seger is the author of The Better Way to Win: Connecting not Competing for Success, and Spiritual Steps on the Road to Success: gaining the goal without losing your soul. She began her business as a script consultant in 1981 and recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the film industry. She can be contacted through her website, http://www.lindaseger.com.

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Women Remain Underrepresented Across Organizations

From entry level to the C-suite, women are underrepresented at US corporations, less likely to advance than men, and face more barriers to senior leadership. In fact, at the rate of progress of the past three years, it will take more than 100 years for the upper reaches of US corporations to achieve gender parity.

These are the principal findings of Women in the Workplace, a study undertaken by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey to encourage female leadership and gender equality in the workforce. Some 118 companies and nearly 30,000 employees participated in the study, building on a similar effort conducted by McKinsey in 2012.1The new study revealed that despite modest improvements, the overarching findings were similar: women remain underrepresented at every level of the corporate pipeline, with the disparity greatest at senior levels of leadership (exhibit).

Women in the Workplace found that for numerous reasons, women are simply less likely than men to advance: they experience an uneven playing field, with their odds of advancement lower at every level; there is a persistent leadership gap in the most senior roles; gender diversity is not widely believed to be a priority; and while employee programs designed to help balance work and family are abundant, participation is low among both sexes due to concerns that using them will negatively affect their careers.

This is an edited extract from Women in the Workplace, a study undertaken by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey. For more information, visit womenintheworkplace.com.