Optimists Live Longer

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
July 27, 2023
Optimists Live Longer

Optimists live longer. One reason may be that optimists handle stress better, minimizing the wear and tear of emotional upsets on their bodies. Learn more.

If you’re an optimist, you tend to expect good things to happen. You might also be confident that you can make good things happen and avoid bad ones. You say, and believe, maxims like, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

The truth is, although we don’t know what will happen in our lives, optimism feels better. It’s also better for our longevity, according to research from Boston University, Harvard, and the Boston Veterans Administration.

Scientists continue to explore the benefits of optimism for longevity.

In one study, researchers analyzed data from more than 150,000 women ages 50 to 79. The most optimistic women lived an average of 4.4 years longer than less optimistic women, with women having the greatest outlook living into their 90s. The trends were consistent across all racial and ethnic groups.

In a study of men, researchers found that reducing stress could explain the link between optimism and better health, concluding that the more optimistic men experienced fewer negative emotions.  


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The simple explanation might be that optimistic people are in better economic circumstances, or healthier to begin with. But optimism still tips the balance in studies, even when comparing groups with the same socioeconomic status. Researchers have also found the effect after controlling for chronic illness, depression, smoking, social engagement, poor diet, and alcohol use.

Why optimism helps keep you alive isn’t nailed down. One reason may be that optimists handle stress better, minimizing the wear and tear of emotional upsets on their bodies. They tend to have better health habits. They have stronger immunity and recover faster from heart surgery, for example, and have better survival rates from some cancers.

A pessimist might say, “No wonder they’re optimistic; things go better for them than for me.”

But expecting better for yourself could improve your own odds. Many people think an upbeat attitude is entirely hardwired, but studies with twins suggest that genes account for only 25 percent of our attitudes. Most traits we deem “genetic” aren’t entirely so. And you can train yourself to be more optimistic.

According to a meta-analysis of research, programs in which you imagine your "best possible self" are effective.

One program takes only 15 minutes a week over 8 weeks. In the first week, you spend 15 minutes writing about a scenario in which your romantic life has gone well over 10 years. In the next week, you spend 15 minutes contemplating your best possible future educational attainment.

Over the following weeks, you imagine ideal hobbies or personal interests, family life, career situation, social life, community involvement, and physical and mental health. The positive feelings from this exercise can last six months, the study found.

Before you go to sleep, write down the especially good events of that day. You can also show gratitude, “counting your blessings” and giving thanks for the ordinary good things in your life. Remember people who helped you and appreciate them. In the morning, think about what you’d like to accomplish that day.

If you have a problem to face, don’t spend too much time deciding who to blame. Instead, look for solutions.

It’s important to realize that you can be optimistic without being impractical. The popular maxim by writer William Arthur Ward puts it this way: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” You can adjust the sails — and focus on the positive and your hopes and dreams.

Choose optimistic motivated people to work with and talk to. Bounce ideas off one another. Optimists attract each other and can create a virtuous circle of support.


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July 27, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell