Optimistic people live as much as 15% longer than pessimists, according to a new study spanning thousands of people and 3 decades.
Scientists combined data from two large, long-term studies: one including 69,744 women and another of 1429 men, all of whom completed questionnaires that assessed their feelings about the future. After controlling for health conditions, behaviors like diet and exercise, and other demographic information, the scientists were able to show that the most optimistic women (top 25%) lived an average of 14.9% longer than their more pessimistic peers.
For the men the results were a bit less dramatic: The most optimistic of the bunch lived 10.9% longer than their peers, on average, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The most optimistic women were also 1.5 times more likely to reach 85 years old than the least optimistic women, whereas the most optimistic men were 1.7 times more likely to make it to that age.
The scientists suggest an optimistic mindset may promote healthy behaviors like exercise and healthy diets and help individuals resist the temptation of unhealthy impulses like smoking and drinking. Optimists may also handle stress better than pessimists, choosing to pursue long-term goals rather than immediate rewards when faced with a challenging situation.
Even if you’re a negative Nellie, take heart: Pessimists can learn to become more optimistic with proper guidance, previous research has shown. Still, it’s unclear whether such behavioral modifications can impact life span. Perhaps it would help to believe they will?