World Half Full
Look on the bright side, live longer
As you might expect, at WorldHalfFull we’re glass half-full people. If you’re a subscriber to this website, chances are you are, too. Which is good news. A recent study has revealed that optimists live longer than pessimists. Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine monitored 70,000 women and 1,500 men over 30 years. They had all completed questionnaires to assess their outlook on life. The research team divided the men and women into four groups, each according to their optimism scores. Factoring in sex, race, age, education, depression and other health conditions, they then evaluated lifespans by comparing the most optimistic with the least. Analysing the data, the researchers concluded that the optimists were more likely to reach “exceptional longevity”, with most positive women 50% more likely to reach their 85th birthday, while the most optimistic men were 70% more likely to become octogenarians.
“While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy ageing,” said Dr Lewina Lee, first author of the study. “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.” The researchers defined optimism as “the belief that the future will be pleasant because one can control important outcomes”. Optimists, they say, cope with stressful situations better and view negative circumstances as “challenges rather than threats”. Pessimists, on the other hand, subscribe to the view that “problems are permanent and reflect one's shortcomings”.
While positive people tend to stress less and are more likely to exercise regularly, eat healthily, and avoid smoking and excess alcohol, the researchers can’t fully account for why optimists live longer. “In our study, healthier behaviours, fewer depressive symptoms, and more social ties only partially accounted for the association from optimism to exceptional longevity,” Dr Lee said. Even though there may be some gaps in the study’s findings, Dr Lee is, well, optimistic that further studies will discover more. “We hope that our findings will inspire further research on interventions to enhance positive health assets that may improve the public’s health with ageing,” she said.