More scientific evidence that optimistic people will outlive us all
Some new research on optimism and longevity makes a compelling case for you to take a break from complaining on Twitter. Researchers from Boston University, Harvard, and the VA Boston Healthcare System found that people with greater optimism are more likely to live to the age of 85 or longer, a feat the researchers called “exceptional longevity.” They examined data from two independent studies of 69,744 women, who were followed for 10 years, and 1,429 men, who were followed for 30 years. The subjects answered survey questions about their general health and health habits, including their diet, alcohol consumption, and rates of smoking, along with their level of optimism.
The study’s findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and show that the most optimistic participants, on average, lived longer by 11% to 15%. They also had between 50% and 70% better odds of achieving exceptional longevity, compared to the least optimistic folk. These results included the accounting of age; certain demographic factors like education level, the presence of chronic diseases, and depression; and health behaviors, including the prevalence of exercise, doctors’ visits, good diet and alcohol use.
“The findings raised for us the very exciting possibility that we may be able to promote longevity and healthy aging by cultivating psychosocial resources, such as optimism,” co-author Lewina Lee, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine, tells Mic.
While the researchers can’t pinpoint exactly how a positive attitude correlates to a longer life, “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 Laura Kubzansky, senior author of the study and professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in a statement about the research.
This concept about resilience falls in line with research that’s connected optimism to general health and longevity in the U.S. since the 1960s. More recently, studies have been published finding that optimism helps ward off cancer, stroke, infection and respiratory disease — and this can potentially help people live longer. (In 2013, however, one other study showed that pessimism leads people to live more carefully and, thus, healthier and longer.)
“We know that most studies have taken the perspective of focusing on deficits that increase risks for diseases and premature death,” Lee says, “so it was useful for us to focus on a psychosocial aspect — or a resource like optimism — as a potential target for a public health intervention [and] to promote health.”
Though the male and female cohorts were studied independently of one another, and each study contained slightly different measurements of optimism, Lee says the researchers were “compelled” by their similar findings on the connection between optimism and longevity. The researchers believe there’s also a link between an optimistic mindset and the implementation of healthier habits, including exercise and being less likely to smoke, which could prompt greater longevity.
Maybe the next great trend in eyewear should be rose-colored glasses.