Optimists are more likely to live longer, study suggests

Time to change your glass-half-empty mindset

Sarah Young
Monday 26 August 2019 20:04 BST
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Other studies suggest more optimistic people are better able to regulate emotions and behaviour
Other studies suggest more optimistic people are better able to regulate emotions and behaviour

Looking on the bright side of life could help you live longer, a new study suggests.

According to scientists from the Boston University School of Medicine in the US, people with greater optimism are more likely to live to the age of 85 or older.

The new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was based on 69,744 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 1,429 men from the Veterans Affairs Normative Ageing Study.

The women were aged between 58 and 86 when they completed an optimism assessment in 2004. Their mortality status was tracked through to 2014.

The men’s age range was 41 to 90 when they completed an optimism assessment in 1986, and their mortality status was also tracked through to 2016.

When researchers compared the participants on their initial levels of optimism, they found that on average the most optimistic men and women had an 11 to 15 per cent longer lifespan.

They also had a 50 to 70 per cent greater odds of reaching the age of 85, compared with the least optimistic groups.

Lewina Lee, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, said: “While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy ageing.

“This study has strong public health relevance because it suggests that optimism is one such psychosocial asset that has the potential to extend the human lifespan.

“Interestingly, optimism may be modifiable using relatively simple techniques or therapies.”

The researchers state that they are unclear as to how exactly optimism helps people to live longer.

However, they did point to other analysis which suggests that more optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behaviour, and bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively.

“Our study contributes to scientific knowledge on health assets that may protect against mortality risk and promote resilient ageing,” Ms Lee added.

“We hope that our findings will inspire further research on interventions to enhance positive health assets that may improve the public’s health with ageing.”

While optimists might go on to live longer lives, a recent study suggested that it is pessimists who are often the most successful.

The study, published in the journal European Economic Review, found that optimistic thinkers who are self-employed are more likely to suffer from financial failure due to having unrealistic prospects.

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Meanwhile, pessimists – those whose forecasts did not match their realisations – earned 30 per cent more than optimists, the study found.

Additional reporting by PA

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