Individuals with higher levels of optimism are more likely to live longer compared to pessimistic people, reaching the age of 85 or older. This finding is a result of a 30 year old study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Although most research on exceptionally long life spans has been focused on biological factors, this study and other recent work suggest that nongenetic factors and psychosocial assets, such as optimism, can also contribute to reaching very old age.
Optimism refers to a general expectation that good things will happen, or believing that the future will be favorable because we can control important outcomes.
The study was based on more than 70,000 participants from NHS (Nurses’ Health Study) and NAS (Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study) pool sample. Over the course of 10 and 30 years, the women and men answered questions about their overall health and sociodemographics, lifestyle habits such as smoking, eating and drinking, and finally, questions regarding an optimistic outlook on life.
After statistical analysis, the results showed that those with the highest level of optimism had a higher likelihood of reaching exceptional longevity. More precise, very optimistic men were 70% and very optimistic women 50% more likely to live past 85 years.
It is still unclear to the mechanism behind this relationship, as there are many other factors that contribute to one’s longevity and need to be accounted for. Researchers offer one possible answer –suggesting that what underlies is optimists’ ability to set and achieve goals that translate to responsible health-related behavior. They state that ”optimistic individuals tend to have goals and the confidence to reach them; thus, optimism may foster health-promoting habits and bolster resistance of unhealthy impulses, more efficacious problem-solving, and adjustment of goals when they become unattainable”.
These findings are important as they suggest optimism can be used as a psychological tool for promoting our health and longevity, making it a valuable target for interventions that aim to advance health through psychological resources.
There are some limitations to the study regarding the sample pools which consisted of mostly white population with higher socioeconomic status compared to the general public. For other limitations but also more detailed findings and methodology, please visit the original article: https://www.pnas.org/content/116/37/18357
The research was authored by Lewina O. Lee, Peter James, Emily S. Zevon, Eric S. Kim, Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, Avron Spiro III , Francine Grodstein and Laura D. Kubzansky.