Longevity Connected to Optimism


Even in the midst of adversity, is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and adaptation for hardship— that make for a long life? 

Over the last two decades, many studies suggest that there is a connection between health and a positive attitude, as known by a glass half full perspective. One famous research project called the ‘Grant Study’ followed a group of Harvard undergraduates from 1939 and into their elder years. The study indicates that optimism among college students predicted their health and longevity 35 years later.

According to Health Day News reporting online, “More Americans are living to 90 and beyond, and by 2050 their ranks could reach almost 9 million.”  Researchers show the number of nonagenarians has nearly tripled -- from 720,000 in 1980 to 1.9 million in 2010. 

Perhaps the sheer number of them will enable us to continue to learn from their experiences. They lived through the Great Depression and World War II.

Many would say they grew up in an era that few have experienced.  It’s a wonder of their optimism and longevity when you consider the following points of perspective:

  • They had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, nor childproof locks on cabinets or doors.
  • As babies they were put on their tummies to sleep in cribs covered with bright colored lead-base paints.
  • If they were fortunate to own a bike, no helmets were worn.
  • Their cars were devoid of seat belts or air bags. Car seats for children were unheard of.
  • They survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant.
  • In the 1930’s their diet consisted of powdered milk, dried beans and potatoes and they continued to know hardship during war times.
  • In the mid-1940’s their generation ate sugar, white bread, real butter and bacon and were rarely over-weight.
  • They fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from the accidents.
  • The first safe anti-biotics were not developed until 1945.
  •  When they went outside to play, no one could reach them with a “smart” phone.
  • BB guns were a standard birthday gift.
  • They didn’t have Playstations, Nintendo’s and X-boxes, no videos; DVD’s, surround sound, cell phones, personal computers, no internet or chat rooms and had to invent play time with toys made from wood or tin.
  • Most schools believed in corporal punishment exacted upon students who were rude to a teacher, not doing homework or just being tardy for school. 
  • The idea of a parent bailing them out if they broke the law was unheard of.  Most parents would side with the law.
  • They had to deal with rejection. Not everyone made the cut on the little-league teams.
  • Air conditioning was rare and infrequently available in movie theaters or department stores.


Every generation imprints a legacy not just from the lives they’ve lived but also how they show examples of continuing to get through health crisis into their elder years.  Those that serve this generation readily know their optimism.  Many would say that they are our ‘Greatest Generation,’ a name given by author and television journalist, Tom Brokaw. 

It’s not a bold claim when you consider their historical perspective.  They deny the self indulgence and immediate gratification that come from material things.  Instead they focus on the values learned during their life.  It’s easy to see they knew the meaning of sacrifice. Not just with lacking in material possessions from the 1930s into mid-1940s, but with real blood, sweat and tears.  Perhaps there will never be a greater example of longevity through optimism even in the midst of adversity known by this generation.  

Orchard Park Rehabilitation Center offers comprehensive rehabilitative outpatient and inpatient services for short or long term care.  They can be located at Orchard Park Health Care, 6005 S. Holly St., Centennial, CO 80121.   Call 303-773-1000 for more information or to schedule a private tour. 




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