A positive outlook tends to make life more enjoyable than a negative outlook. Wallowing in pessimism for most people is not the best way to go. You could say – generally speaking – that optimists have more fun. But there’s more to being a positive person than simply enjoying life. There is now some evidence that optimistic people actually live longer! This is according to an article that appeared on National Public Radio a few weeks ago.
The NPR piece is based on an article recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, and it’s the latest in a series of studies that show a linkage between optimism and longevity. In this study, researchers tracked a group of more than 70,000 women whose average age was 70. These women had been surveyed back in 2004 to determine their average level of optimism, based on their degree of agreement with such statements as, “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.” With this assessment in mind, researchers then tracked the death rates of these women in the years between 2006 and 2012.
The results were convincing. Researchers found that after controlling for factors including age, race, educational level and marital status, the women who were most optimistic were 29 percent less likely to die during the six-year study follow-up than the least optimistic. No matter which of the major causes of death was analyzed, the results were similar: the optimists had a reduced rate of death for cancer (16 percent lower), heart disease (38 percent), stroke (39 percent), respiratory disease (37 percent) and infection (52 percent). In almost every instance the correlation between a positive outlook and longer lifespan showed up in the survey results.
According to NPR, other studies have shown that optimistic people tend to have better cardiovascular health, suffering lower rates of heart disease, which is still the number one cause of death among American adults. The study, analysts say, is significant because of its large sample size and also because researchers made the effort to control for a wide variety of factors, adding credibility to the results.
Why does this linkage exist between attitude and health? Researchers including study author Eric Kim of Harvard point out several possible connections. First, people who are more optimistic tend to have healthier behaviors when it comes to diet, exercise and tobacco use. But even people who don’t exhibit this traits, optimistic people live longer. According to Kim, this may be because optimistic people have better coping skills. “When they face life challenges, they create contingency plans, plan for future challenges and accept what can’t be changed,” he says. There’s also the very real possibility of a physiological correlation in which an optimistic outlook helps the body enjoy “better immune function or lower levels of inflammation.”
However, if someone is basically pessimistic, psychologists disagree about whether that person’s outlook can be re-wired to make them habitually see the brighter side. If people can be “rewired” to become more optimistic, will they become healthier? More study is needed to determine if that can occur.
Regardless of whether you are an optimist or nor, you should have a legal and financial plan in place to handle the twists and turns of you retirement, care and longevity.