Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty? Choose Wisely for a Long Life

Do you see the glass as half-empty or half-full?

If it's the former, you might want to reconsider.  A new survey has found that those having a positive attitude could be evolutionarily advantageous, according to Cornell researchers who simulated generations of evolution in a computational model, reports.

The web quotes the researchers as saying that these findings offer scientific support to the ancient philosophical insights from China, Greece and India, which encourage cultivating long-term contentment or life satisfaction rather than grasping at the fleeting joy of instant gratification.

Hmm. Guess they've met many millennials.

“In an evolutionary sense, you have to evaluate your life on the basis of more than what happened just now,” says Shimon Edelman, professor of psychology and a co-author of the study.

 It took having cancer, for me, to learn to live in the moment.  I was very lucky. My cancer was not invasive and here I am, 12 years later, even though I had to go through Stage IV treatment for Stage 0 cancer.  But there's nothing like cancer to make you realize you are not going to live forever, and to know people who were not as lucky as you (a close friend and survivor in my support group died right after her 37th birthday).

 It sharpens life all around you.  I had a three-year-old at the time and I was terrified I would not live to see him graduate from high school.  He's now a freshman, about to become a sophomore. 

You do lose your sense of gratefulness, and remembering to live in the present.  What's that saying?  The past is history, the future, a mystery, today is a gift and that's why we call it the present.

In their computations, the “agents” or simulated actors researchers created in the study that survived to produce offspring in the model were the ones that attached more weight to longer-term happiness than to momentary happiness, especially when food was scarce. They also “remembered” past happiness for a longer period of time than their less-successful counterparts.

No matter whether food was abundant or scarce, the agents that had a more positive outlook survived, while their counterparts who gave more attention to short-term joy and a negative attitude died off.

And when agents compared their food resources with their friends’, their friends did worse when food was abundant.

“It may indeed be advisable, at least under conditions of scarcity or adversity, to focus on longer-term well-being or contentment over momentary pleasures and to be less envious of one’s neighbors. Also, in general, it may be wise to mark happy events more than unhappy ones,” Edelman says.


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