Good news for folks who see the glass half full: New research suggests that optimists live longer. In some cases, it might even be an exceptionally longer time.
The August 2019 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, found that optimistic people are more likely to achieve “exceptional longevity,” aka living to age 85 or older. Researchers looked at 69,744 women and 1,429 men and instructed them to fill out surveys that assessed their level of optimism — a general expectation that good things will happen and the future will be favorable. The same survey also assessed the participants’ overall health and lifestyle habits such as diet, smoking, and alcohol use. Results showed that optimism is specifically linked to an 11 to 15 percent longer life span on average.
“While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging,” said corresponding author Lewina Lee, PhD, in a press release. “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.”
Scientists aren’t exactly sure why optimism might help people live longer, but they do have a hunch. “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 senior author Laura Kubzansky, PhD.
While it might be extremely challenging to be optimistic during the tough times — especially when other people around you are being super pessimistic — speaking to a certified mental health professional can definitely lend a hand.
You can also try techniques to increase your positive thoughts at home, such as identifying something positive in your life for every negative thought you have, thinking of people who have a generally positive outlook and asking yourself what they’d do in a negative situation, and giving other people (and yourself) positive feedback whenever you can. A little goes a long way!