Optimists Tend to Live Longer, Study Says
Attention glass-half-full types: Staying optimistic may help you live longer and better than your more pessimistic counterparts.
Researchers from Boston University came to that conclusion after following 233 men over 22 years. They reported that the study participants who had a more optimistic attitude had higher levels of emotional well-being and experienced stress differently and less frequently than those who were more pessimistic.
The study also showed that the optimistic participants reported more frequent positive moods and lower negative moods.
Stress is known to have a negative impact on our health. By looking at whether optimistic people handle day-to-day stressors differently, our findings add to knowledge about how optimism may promote good health as people age.
The benefits of positive thinking
A 2019 study by the same research team found that the most optimistic men and women lived 11 to 15 percent longer than the least optimistic people, even after controlling for confounding factors such as chronic disease, educational attainment, and health behaviors like exercise, diet, and alcohol use.
Too much stress and negative states of mind weaken the neuroendocrine and immune responses of the body, causing vulnerability to disease or weaker recovery from diseases as the body cannot mount a strong response to stress and disease. It is a complex interplay of disease/stressor vulnerability, perception of disease/stress, and the reaction of our body to stressors/disease that are interlinked.
However, while optimism may be linked to some better health outcomes, this doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s helpful to remind ourselves that a more negative outlook doesn’t necessarily doom people to a shorter life. Longevity is a complicated field of study, and some studies indicate that apparent pessimism may also have a purpose.
Keeping on the sunny side of life
Find and focus on behaviors toward positive outcomes that can be accomplished and experienced in the future, and behavior and situations that can be changed versus those that are more fixed or rigid.
One suggestion is to reduce exposure to news/mass media, which tend to present negative situations as pervasive/universal, permanent, and uncontrollable. These situational perspectives undermine optimism.
There are two sides to every coin, and sometimes it’s just easier to focus on ways things aren’t going well. Sometimes, I begin my appointments by asking patients to tell me three things that are going well in their life. It can completely change the tone of the next hour of our conversation.
Curley, Christopher. “Optimists Tend to Live Longer than Pessimists.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 11 Mar. 2022, https://www.healthline.com/health-news/look-on-the-bright-side-optimists-tend-to-live-longer-than-pessimists#Keeping-on-the-sunny-side-of-life.
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