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. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2894461/)

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.

How bout you?