Jeff Ryan, Author & Speaker

Photo of Smokey Mountains ©

Being optimistic — and staying that way — could save your life.

To say I’m a hiking fanatic may be underestimating my enthusiasm. I’ve often wondered as I’ve hiked along, exactly what it is that keeps powering me up and over hills and exploring new territories.

I always sensed that optimism played a part. I am optimistic by nature. I thought that a positive outlook was something I was born with and sustained me without ever needing much in the way of care and feeding. Now I realize I was feeding and nurturing my optimism all along.

Just how important is an optimistic outlook? 

Researchers are now discovering that it could save your life.

In a 2009 study, Italian scientists found evidence “that optimistic people present a higher quality of life compared to those with low levels of optimism or even pessimists.” In addition, they determined that “optimism may significantly influence mental and physical well-being by the promotion of a healthy lifestyle as well as by adaptive behaviours and cognitive responses, associated with greater flexibility, problem-solving capacity and a more efficient elaboration of negative information.”

(Source: “Optimism and Its Impact on Mental and Physical Well-Being”, Conversano et al. 2009.

A case for setting long-term goals

While I can’t site any scientific study, my own experience is that the practice of setting and consistently pursuing long-term goals has sustained my optimistic outlook. It’s been the spiritual equivalent of eating a lovingly prepared sit down dinner (as opposed to gobbling down burger and fries from a drive-through window).

Our journeys should sustain us, not drain us

A funny thing happened in the midst of my 28-year section hike of the Appalachian Trail. Every time I returned to work after being on the trail for 10-14 days, I sat down to write with renewed energy and purpose. My vacation hadn’t worn me down, it had inspired me. I quickly determined that was the way I wanted to live my life on and off the trail — to identify long-term goals that kept my optimism healthy, strong and powering my way toward new opportunities — and to consistently make progress toward each of them. So far, it’s working out pretty well.

See also  Thoreau and Life at 3 mph

How bout you?

Jeffrey H Ryan is an author, adventurer, photographer and historian. He has written several books about his outdoor exploits, his fascination with hiking trails and the people and places found just off the beaten path. His debut book, Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-year hike on America's trail was hailed by the former Executive Editor of National Geographic as "a classic of nature and travel writing" and set off a national tour (in a 1985 VW camper, no less). His books are known for weaving a deep appreciation for history into walks across contemporary landscapes that give readers the feeling they are hiking right alongside. When Jeff isn't trekking, chasing down a great story or spinning yarns from his keyboard, he enjoys sharing his adventures with audiences who love the outdoors. He spends much of his time in his beloved native state of Maine.

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