There seems to be an obsession with longevity at the moment. Endless research on this, that and the other food, magic pill or habit that will keep us alive for longer. Though personally I am not convinced that I wish to live for longer. Why do the scientists think this is such a great goal, I wonder? I gather there are various experiments in the US to maintain life, including cryotechnology, which only makes me think of the crazy consequences of freezing people depicted brilliantly in the antics of Woody Allen in his film Sleeper!
But for me, it looks as if I could be quasi-immortal! Two pieces of research released this year demonstrate, firstly, that it’s the inconsequential contact we have with strangers every day that keep us healthy, happy and alive. Secondly, that optimists stay healthier and live longer. Oh, and incidentally being a grandparent helps too. Yay!
Mind you, as I say, I am more interested in being healthy than living forever but it seems like good news, nonetheless. And why does this work for me? Well, as most of you who know me would agree, I am an optimist and a positive-thinker (why else would I have called my company Positiveworks?!). And now that we have moved to Kew Village we are experiencing a delightful number of everyday chit-chats with neighbours, florists, baristas, and newsagents, alongside all the jolly conversations we have at the Avenue Club where we study French, wellbeing, yoga, creative writing and more. I have never lived in such a friendly community before.
In my early life we lived in Surrey, near Oxted, and I remember that my young nephew, who lived in Wandsworth, used to comment to my mother, his grandmother, that she seemed to know “everyone” in the High Street as she walked alongside him. And she certainly knew several of those people by sight, as did I as a child. But after Surrey, I moved to London and that is, in the main, the land of anonymity, which, I have to admit, quite suited me for much of my life. As a busy working Mum I enjoyed choosing who I spoke to rather than bumping into people.
Here in Kew we bump into someone we recognise, if not know intimately as friends, every day. It is an extraordinarily friendly place where we just have to walk down the street and some stranger will smile at us. And what an interestingly nice feeling that is, after all, isn’t it? Especially for this latter part of life. I am really coming to enjoy these brief encounters.
I wonder what it is about a chance meeting that makes us happy. There is obviously something that happens in these moments that is meaningful and boosts our mood. Does receiving a smile from a stranger somehow reinforce the idea that the world is a good place, that the majority of people are pleasant and not out to do us harm? It doesn’t matter whether that person is local or comes from the other side of the world, a few words exchanged with a stranger or someone one only sees randomly definitely makes one feel that all is good with the world. So, go on, smile at a stranger today and make them live longer!
Now those of us who are optimists have often been accused of being unrealistic. But ha, it seems that for health and longevity we have the answer after all! And, of course, we have a point, don’t we? Wouldn’t the world fall apart if there were more evil people than good, more chaos than order? On the whole, most of the time, the world is far from perfect, but there are enough good folk in it to remind us that positive thinking isn’t as ridiculous as some people consider it to be. At least one spends each day feeling relatively happy, which is good for our immune systems, and then if something bad does happen then one has energy in reserve to manage it. Whereas the pessimists must spend each day rather anxious and miserable and then if the inevitable bad thing happens they will be facing it from an already-depleted physical and emotional state. Won’t they? I am sure you might have some personal view on that, so do share it.
To be honest I wouldn’t have started my business Positiveworks unless I had optimism – nor would any entrepreneur begin a venture unless they believed in it and thought positively about it. How could they? They can’t prove it will work until it does work. In 1992 when I set up the company I had some qualifications, some good training and coaching products but no clients. Noone knew me from Adam but somewhere in my gut I believed I could make it work. In my own small way, I did.
And apart from business, we need optimism and positive thinking if we are playing sports, running a public sector organisation, treating patients as a doctor or therapist, teaching children from all backgrounds, managing a health condition, making a change.
Or, indeed, running a country. I am sorry, I have great respect for Philip Hammond but I personally don’t think an Eeyore has the right credentials to run a country and make it successful so I am glad he didn’t stand for PM, though I am far from happy with the Tigger of a PM we do have. Talk about extremes… For when I talk of optimism I am not speaking of Pollyanna thinking. Not thinking that everything in the garden will always be roses. I am referring to rational optimism – being optimistic about things that have a relative potential for success or positive outcome.
One of the things that concerns me most these days is that politicians and voters alike talk this country down. There are plenty of bad and embarrassing things happening in the rest of the world too. We certainly aren’t the worst. But because we are divided on this never-ending topic of Brexit people choose to put the country down at the same time as denigrating the opposite side, whether a Remainer or a Leaver. Whatever happens we are absolutely going to need to think optimistically about ourselves and our ability to rebuild our economy, our relationships with other countries and bring together this divided population of ours. We can’t do that on pessimism and negative thinking.
So I am happy that something (was it being born in sunny May, a genetic gift, or an experience of childhood) has made me an optimist. And perhaps as an optimist I also tend to believe that the majority of people around me do not wish me harm and are friendly, and so have frequent inconsequential and yet meaningful chats and conversations with people in this village, on the tube, waiting in a lift and more. It has felt quite natural for me to do so, though perhaps now I should make even more of an effort to embrace positive thinking and smile at strangers, to keep myself healthy.
But ultimately, do we really want to be immortal? I don’t think so. Healthy, yes, but to live longer and longer just for the sake of it certainly does not fill me with optimism or joy, so I shall leave that to those people who are choosing to cryogenically freeze themselves for the future. If they are as amusing as Woody Allen when they thaw, life won’t be so bad. In the meantime, who might you smile at today? And how might you develop an optimistic thought about life despite Brexit and Trump?! Please do. We need all the positive and optimistic thoughts we can get.
PS. you can now download our book Reclaim Health A recovery strategy when doctors can’t explain your symptoms for free on http://reclaimhealth.org.uk/?page_id=280