You Can “POSITIVELY” Live Longer
Studies show that people who have an optimistic attitude live longer and remain healthier in old age than do those with a gloomy outlook.
Optimists are people who look at any given circumstance in a hopeful light and anticipate the best outcome possible. They tend to remain in much better health as they grow older than do pessimists—those who expect the worst and often don’t take care of themselves.
Research has shown, for example, that among older people, optimists appear to recover faster from surgery, have less heart disease, and experience less pain and fewer physical limitations. They are more socially active as well. And the results of one study—conducted over a period of 30 years—indicate that optimists tend to live longer and more comfortably than pessimists.
How the study was conducted
Between the years 1962 and 1965, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota administered personality tests to 1,145 men and women who came to the facility for general medical care. During follow-up in 1994, 447 individuals from the original group participated. Their average age at that time was approximately 60 years. They answered 36 more questions about their own health in 8 categories. The topics covered included physical functioning, physical limitations, bodily pain, general health, vitality, social functioning, emotional limitations, and mental health.
The researchers also used a 298-item scale to determine whether the participants were optimists or pessimists based on their responses to the personality test administered 30 years previously.
Happier and healthier
The 36-item health survey administered in 1994 revealed that optimists reported a better quality of life than did pessimists. The pessimists scored lower in all 8 of the physical and mental health categories.
The optimists were far more likely than the pessimists to report:
- having fewer limitations due to physical health
- having less pain
- feeling more energetic most of the time
- having fewer problems with work or other daily activities as a result of their emotional state
- feeling more peaceful and happy most of the time.
When comparing these 447 patients with the larger group of 1,145 personality-test respondents of 30 years earlier, the investigators found that the death rate was significantly higher among the pessimists than among the optimists.
Making the connection
The specifics of how pessimism contributes to poor physical and mental health and early death are unclear. However, experts have made the following observations.
- Pessimists believe they have no control over circumstances, including those surrounding their own health and well-being. Because they regard matters as being out of their hands, they don’t bother to take steps that could improve their health or other situations.
- Optimists, on the other hand, are more likely to seek medical care because they are likely to feel that they can improve the course of their health problems.
- Optimism may help diminish the physical toll that emotional stress takes on the body. (Hormones that are released during stress can wear on the heart and the immune system, for example.) Whereas pessimists are likely to consider themselves victims and helpless to correct a problem, optimists are more skilled at coping in troubling situations. For instance, they stay calm and seek reasonable solutions.
You can learn to think positively
Experts believe that optimism can be learned. People can be taught to recognize, then challenge—and finally eliminate—their negative thoughts and beliefs. Pessimistic individuals also must resist the urge to blame themselves for their problems and instead consider all the contributing factors and how to avoid them in the future.
From Mayo Clinic Proceedings and Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter