It turns out anxiety and existential dread are not the key to longevity, per a new study.
I’m the type of person who rolls their eyes at anyone who calls themselves an optimist. Am I bitter? Absolutely. It makes sense, when you consider that a global pandemic stole my youth, the rent is too damn high, and I’m slowly but very surely developing an intolerance to lactose. I just might try to cut back on my negativity a bit, though — especially after this new study found that optimism, however delusional, can make your life longer.
The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, included 159,255 women from racially diverse backgrounds, per EurekAlert. The researchers found that higher levels of optimism, which they defined as “the generalized expectation of positive future outcomes,” correlated with longer lives and a higher likelihood of living past 90 years of age. Women who were more optimistic had a 5.4% longer lifespan on average, which translates to a couple of years of extra life.
This study is significant not only because of the results, but also because it was among the first of its kind to significantly include racial minorities; whereas most previous studies like it focused primarily on white women. The survey found that Black, Hispanic, and Asian women also benefited from being more optimistic, even after controlling for mental health factors like depression.
Admittedly, sometimes I feel like optimism is a capitalistic scam to make us complacent, and there are definitely issues with toxic positivity — but when I think about it, being angsty all the time is pretty damn tiring, too. So what does this study mean for people like me, whose main source of serotonin is existential memes about anxiety? It turns out there are actually some scientifically-backed ways to make yourself more optimistic in your everyday life, including making sure you surround yourself with people who are positive, taking time to acknowledge the things in your life that are out of your control, and consuming less news. I guess we can try some of those and see what happens.