Optimists tend to live longer than pessimists
- Researchers say that optimistic people tend to live longer than those who are pessimistic.
- One reason is that optimists generally experience less stress in their lives.
- Experts say pessimism can weaken the immune system and decrease overall body strength.
- They say you can create a more positive attitude by being “intentionally optimistic” and focusing on behaviors and situations you can change.
Beware, glass half full types: staying optimistic can help you live longer and better than your more pessimistic counterparts.
Researchers at Boston University came to this conclusion after following 233 men for 22 years.
They reported that 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 optimistic participants reported more frequent positive moods and lower negative moods.
“This study tests a possible explanation, assessing whether more optimistic people deal with daily stress more constructively and therefore experience better emotional well-being,” Lewina O. Lee, PhD, study author and psychologist clinician at the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the VA Boston Healthcare System and assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a press release.
“Stress is known to have a negative impact on our health. By examining whether optimistic people deal with everyday stressors differently, our results add to the knowledge about how optimism can promote good health as people age,” she added.
The new study adds to a body of research linking optimism to better health outcomes.
A 2019 study by the same research team found that the most optimistic men and women lived 11-15% longer than the least optimistic people, even after controlling for confounding factors such as chronic disease, education level and health behaviors such as exercise, diet, and alcohol consumption.
“In the 21st century, a lot of evidence has emerged about optimism and positivity and how they can influence the immune system, brain function and physical health,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, PhD, professor of public health at New Mexico State University. .
“Too much stress and negative states of mind weaken the body’s neuroendocrine and immune responses, causing vulnerability to illness or poorer recovery from illnesses because the body cannot mount a strong response to stress and illness” , he added. “It’s a complex interplay between vulnerability to disease/stress, perception of disease/stress, and our body’s response to related stressors/disease.”
However, while optimism may be linked to better health outcomes, that’s not the whole story.
“It’s helpful to remember that a more negative outlook doesn’t necessarily doom people to a shorter life,” Dr. Jacob Hascalovici, chief medical officer at chronic pain telemedicine company Clearing, told Healthline. “Longevity is a complicated field of study, and some studies indicate that apparent pessimism may also have a purpose.”
That said, if you want to work on a rosier outlook, there are some helpful strategies you can use.
“Find and focus on behaviors toward positive outcomes that can be accomplished and experienced in the future, and behaviors and situations that can be changed from those that are more fixed or rigid,” Joel said. Milam, PhD, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics with the University of California Irvine Public Health Program.
One suggestion is to “reduce exposure to mass news/media, which tends to portray negative situations as pervasive/universal, permanent and uncontrollable,” Milam told Healthline. “These situational outlook undermines optimism.”
Focusing on mindfulness and intention can also help.
“We have to be intentionally optimistic,” Gregory Scott Brown, MD, psychiatrist, mental health writer and author of “The Self-Healing Mind,” told Healthline.
“There are two sides to every coin, and sometimes it’s just easier to focus on the ways things are not going well. Sometimes I start my appointments by asking patients to tell me three things that are going well in their lives. It can completely change the tone of the next hour of our conversation,” he said.
“Imagine if we started each day with intentional gratitude for the good things in our lives,” Brown said. “I suspect it would benefit our physical and mental health.”