1: The year was 1930.
One hundred eighty young women had just become nuns at the School of Sisters of Notre Dame. They were asked to write autobiographical journal entries.
“More than five decades later, researchers coded the entries for positive emotional content,” Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy write in The Gap and The Gain: The High Achiever’s Guide to Happiness, Confidence, and Success.
The psychologists doing the study wanted to know if positivity as a 20-year-old could predict how a person’s life would turn out.
The short answer? Yes.
“The nuns whose entries contained overtly joyful content, explicitly describing positive emotions in their descriptions, lived an average of nearly 10 years longer than the nuns whose journal entries were more negative or neutral,” Dan and Ben write.
In fact, 90 percent of the happiest group of nuns were still alive at age 85. Versus only 34 percent of the least happy nuns.
“That’s a massive difference,” Dan and Ben observe. “When these nuns were 20 years old, they weren’t basing their happiness of how long they thought they’d live. Instead, they lived longer lives because they were happy.”
This finding is supported by other research that shows optimistic people often live 10+ years longer than pessimistic people.
Another study demonstrated that unhappy people get sick more easily. “For instance, one study showed that unhappy employees take, on average, 15 extra sick days per year,” Dan and Ben write.
In yet another study, participants were first assessed on their happiness levels. Then, they were injected with a strain of cold virus.
“One week later, those who were happier at the beginning of the study had fought off the virus better than the less happy people,” Dan and Ben write. “They felt better and had fewer objective symptoms of the virus—meaning they had less sneezing, coughing, inflammation, and congestion.”
Scientists have created a new field of research called epigenetics that studies how our perception of events and situations shapes how these events impact us.
“Research shows that our interpretation of events, despite their objective characteristics, determines the impact of stress and illness on our bodies,” the authors write. “The way we interpret an experience literally affects how our bodies metabolize that experience. Perception shapes biology.”
2: This week, we’ve been exploring learnings from Dan Sullivan’s framework called the GAP and the GAIN. Dan tells us there are two ways we can view our progress.
The first option is to measure backward from where we started. When we think this way, we are living in “the GAIN.” We appreciate the progress we’ve made.
Or, we can measure where we are now against our ideal. Where we wish we were. Dan calls this “the GAP.”
The key takeaway is: This is a choice we get to make. We can choose to live in the GAIN rather than the GAP.
3: Living in the GAP stresses us out. “It taxes and ages our physical bodies,” the authors write. “It erodes our emotional well-being.
“The GAP is a habit. It’s a habit we can fall into literally hundreds of times per day. We can spend hours each day in the GAP—unhappy, resentful, regretful,” they observe. “If we spend extended periods of time in the GAP, the compound effect of it will heavily shorten our life spans.”
The opposite is also true. Living in the GAIN is “restorative, healing, and empowering,” Dan and Ben write.
When we are in the GAIN, we see our lives, even the challenges we experience, as GAINs.
“No one’s life is without serious problems, but we still have a choice on how you see them,” Dan and Ben observe.
When life dishes up stressful experiences, our bodies can handle that experience because we are framing what is happening as a GAIN.
Reflection: How do I typically measure my progress? Do I measure where I am against my ideal? Or backward from where I started?
Action: Share the GAP and the GAIN with someone I love and care about.