Shawn Achor: A Joyful Attitude for a Long (and Happy) Existence

Positive thinking will add years—really good years—to your life.
May 22, 2014

Health and happiness is not a chicken-or-egg quandary. Studies have determined that happiness often does lead to improved health and longevity.

Among the most famous of these studies involved the diaries of 180 Catholic nuns from the School Sisters of Notre Dame, all born before 1917. As young women, they were all asked to write down their thoughts in biographical journals. More than five decades later, researchers mined their entries for positivity. As it turned out, the nuns who had written the most overtly joyful content lived as much as 10 years longer than the nuns who were neutral or more negative. By age 85, 90 percent of the happiest quartile of nuns were still alive, compared to just 34 percent of the least-happy quartile.

Negative emotions create harmful effects upon our bodies and prevent us from believing that our behavior matters. As a result, pessimists do not cultivate positive actions like exercise, they don’t create social connections, and they are more prone to depression.

Positive emotions can also improve our daily physical health, which in turn keeps us working faster and longer, and therefore makes us more likely to succeed. Research shows unhappy workers take an average of 15 more sick days per year than their more joyful counterparts.

Have you taken measures to cultivate a happy work environment for yourself and others? Doing so will mean not only greater success, but more fun striving for your potential. Although optimists and pessimists might both live to be 100, the optimist will have a lot more fun doing it.

Shawn Achor sits down with Oprah Winfrey 10 a.m. CT Sunday, May 25 on Super Soul Sunday on OWN. In this clip from the show, Achor, the New York Timesbestselling author of Before Happiness and The Happiness Advantage, discusses the secret of happy people and what he believes are actionable steps to help diminish depression, increase joy, and shift our lens to positive.

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