Huh. Apparently Optimists Live Longer.

a picture of a smiling sun drawn on a blackboard
Image by Pixabay / CC 0

As I’ve written before, research has shown that the most resilient people aren’t always positive. “Always” is the key term here. A generally positive outlook is helpful in responding well to life’s challenges; the important point is that while resilient people are generally optimistic they also acknowledge reality.

There’s no amount of positive thinking that’ll let you just gloss over the bad parts and have you rebounding easily from them in a meaningful way.

Bummer, but it’s true. Plus, it’s also worth noting there’s such thing as defensive pessimism that has more in common with optimism than pessimism.

Anyway, it would seem that increased resilience isn’t the only potential benefit of having a (generally, if not exclusively) positive outlook. You may in fact live longer because of it.

Wild, I know.

Optimism and Longevity, Even When Controlling for Many Other Variables

A recent longitudinal study looked at two groups of individuals over a long timespan: The first group was made up of nearly 70,000 women and followed for 10 years. The second was over 1400 men followed for 30 years. (So a larger group of women but followed for a shorter time than the smaller group of men.)

What they found was interesting:

  • People who gave the most optimistic responses at the study beginning lived about 13 percent longer on average than those who were pessimistic.
  • Optimists had increased odds of living to age 85, with the increase greater among men — a 50% boost was noted in women and a 70% boost for men.

One way to explain these discrepancies would be to say that the optimists are probably better off financially and healthier than the pessimistic group. However, even when researchers controlled for socioeconomic factors as well as smoking and alcohol use, social life, dietary habits, and chronic illness, the optimists still lived longer.

It’s possible that optimism leads to better stress management, which in turn can serve protective health effects. Other research has previously found that optimists do recover more quickly from heart surgery and are more likely to survive some cancers.

I’ll Try Not to Be Negative About These Findings

So huh. Apparently optimists live longer.

I’d say, “Welp, that means I’m screwed,” but maybe I shouldn’t. (I consider myself an optimistic realist.)

Seems a pity to risk frittering my years away on Earth making negative wisecracks. I suppose there are worst things.

Jaded being cool is so 2002 anyway.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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