Do you see the glass half empty, or half full? If your answer is full, you may be in luck: Optimistic people live up to 15% longer than pessimists, according to a new study involving over 3000 women and men.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was based on data gathered from 69,744 women and 1,429 men over the time span of 3 decades. Both groups completed questionnaires to assess their level of optimism, as well as their socioeconomic status, overall health, and health habits (e.g., diet, smoking, and alcohol use). After controlling for these factors, scientists found that optimistic women lived an average of 14.9% longer than pessimistic women, and optimistic men lived about 10.9% longer than pessimistic men.
The idea that optimists may live longer, healthier lives is not new. Prior studies have found that those with a brighter outlook on life are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases and premature death. Nevertheless, the current study is unique because it also measured “exceptional longevity”, which means living to the age of 85 or beyond. Optimists had a higher chance of achieving exceptional longevity – highly optimistic women were 1.5 times more likely to reach 85 years old compared to the least optimistic women, whereas highly optimistic men were 1.7 times more likely to make it to 85 compared to the least optimistic men.
"While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging," explained corresponding author Dr. Lewina Lee, a clinical research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston and assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.
How exactly does optimism extend one's life span?
Researchers suspect that an optimistic mindset may promote healthier behaviors, such as a good diet and motivation to exercise regularly. "Other research suggests that more optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behavior as well as bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively," said senior author Dr. Laura Kubzansky, Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and co-director, Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In other words, optimistic individuals may experience less extreme emotional reactions to stressors, making it easier for them to cope with negative life events.
So, the next time you’re feeling down, try to make it a habit to think positively. Who knows, it may add another five (or 10) years to your life.