Scientists already knew that optimism can give people the self-efficacy to reach difficult goals, protect their health in high-stress times, strengthen their romantic relationships, improve their eating habits and ease their job searches. Now — and this would be hardly a surprise to optimists — researchers know happy people are more likely to do these things into old age.
Large study finds association between positive attitude and extended life span
Here's a good reason to turn that frown upside down: Optimistic people live as much as 15% longer than pessimists, according to a new study spanning thousands of people and 3 decades.
Scientists combined data from two large, long-term studies: one including 69,744 women and another of 1429 men, all of whom completed questionnaires that assessed their feelings about the future. After controlling for health conditions, behaviors like diet and exercise, and other demographic information, the scientists were able to show that the most optimistic women (top 25%) lived an average of 14.9% longer than their more pessimistic peers. For the men the results were a bit less dramatic: The most optimistic of the bunch lived 10.9% longer than their peers, on average, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The most optimistic women were also 1.5 times more likely to reach 85 years old than the least optimistic women, whereas the most optimistic men were 1.7 times more likely to make it to that age.
The scientists suggest an optimistic mindset may promote healthy behaviors like exercise and healthy diets and help individuals resist the temptation of unhealthy impulses like smoking and drinking. Optimists may also handle stress better than pessimists, choosing to pursue long-term goals rather than immediate rewards when faced with a challenging situation.
Boston-area scientists found the most optimistic people live an average of 11 to 15 percent longer than their more pessimistic peers. Women who are optimists are also 50 percent more likely to live at least to age 85, while male optimists are 70 percent more likely to live that long, said Lewina Lee, the lead researcher and a psychiatry professor at Boston University’ School of Medicine.
“In previous studies, researchers have found that more optimistic people tend to have lower risk of chronic diseases and premature death,” Lee said. “Our study took it one step further."
Optimists generally expect good things to happen in the future and feel like they can control important outcomes. They tend to stay positive and put the best spin on whatever comes their way.
Not a natural optimist? There’s good news: The mind-set is about 25 percent hereditary, Lee said, meaning people have some control over their level of good thoughts. She said cognitive behavioral therapy and imagining a future in which your goals have been reached are examples of ways that people can become more optimistic.