Could Optimism Help You Live Longer?

The link between optimism and health is becoming more evident, according to Francine Grodstein of Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Grodstein and her colleagues have found that individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer, especially to age 85 or older.

Optimism is defined in this study as “a psychological attribute characterized as the general expectation that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be favorable because one can control important outcomes.”

For the study, 69,744 women and 1,429 men completed surveys that caused them to assess their level of optimism, as well as their overall health and habits, such as diet, smoking and alcohol use. Researchers followed the women participants for 10 years and the men for 30 years.

Researchers found that the most optimistic women and men had, on average, an 11-15% longer life span, and they had a 50-70% greater chance of reaching age 85 than those in the least optimistic groups. These results held true even after accounting for age; demographics; chronic diseases; depression; and health behaviors, like diet, exercise, alcohol use and primary care visits.

Further research is needed to identify exactly how optimism helps people live longer, but the researchers do acknowledge that more optimistic people tend to have healthier habits, which could extend their life span.

“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,” says senior co-author Laura Kubzansky of Harvard University’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.