Researchers from Boston University have evidence that optimistic people live longer than those who have a more negative approach to life.
The study states that individuals with greater optimism achieve “exceptional longevity,” that is, they can live up to 85 years or more.
The theory is that optimists may find it easier to control emotions and so be protected from the effects of stress.
The researchers also considered that more optimistic people tend to have healthier habits, such as being more likely to engage in more exercise and less likely to smoke, which could extend the lifespan.
Optimism refers to a general expectation that good things will happen, or believing that the future will be favorable because we can control important outcomes.
The study attracted 69,744 women and 1,429 men who completed survey measures to assess their level of optimism, as well as their overall health, diet, smoking and alcohol use. The women were followed for 10 years while their male counterparts for 30 years.
When the participants were compared based on their initial levels of optimism, the researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11 to 15 percent longer lifespan, and had 50-70 percent greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic groups.
While a lot is known about the risk factors for disease and early death, far less is understood about what the researchers call “positive psychosocial factors” that could enable healthy aging.
“This study has strong public health relevance because it suggests that optimism is one such psychosocial asset that has the potential to extend the human lifespan. Interestingly, optimism may be modifiable using relatively simple techniques or therapies,” explained Prof Lewina Lee, associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.
It is, however, unclear how exactly optimism helps people attain a longer life.
“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 the study’s lead author Laura Kubzansky Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences.