Optimistic people may live longer, study says

By Michelle Ganley - Graham Media Group
Photo by Isadora Menezes from Pexels

Do you see the glass half-full or half-empty? Science suggests that if you tend to look on the bright side, you just might live longer.

“Optimism helps people cope with disease and recover from surgery. Even more impressive is the impact of a positive outlook on overall health and longevity,” according to a study from Harvard Health Publishing. “Research tells us that an optimistic outlook early in life can predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years.”

Fifteen to 40 years -- that’s noteworthy.

The findings are quite fascinating. The report touches on optimism and blood pressure, optimism and heart disease, optimism and survival -- even optimism and what it means for sports fans.

“Sports fans will get a kick from a French study of cardiovascular mortality in 1988," the study reads. "On July 12, France bested Brazil in the biggest sporting event ever held in France, the finals of the World Cup of soccer. French men enjoyed a lower cardiovascular death rate on July 12 than on the average of the other days between July 7 and July 17, but French women did not. Doctors don't know why fatal heart attacks declined -- perhaps a burst of optimism is responsible.”

Sounds like another reason to care about sports, right? It might be good for your health.

One of the studies within the study -- yes, Harvard looked at a series of studies from the U.S. and Europe -- examined the link between optimism and overall health in 2,300 older adults, over a two-year period.

In two years, people who had a positive outlook were much more likely to stay healthy and enjoy independent living than their less-jovial counterparts, Harvard found.

And sure, perhaps it’s one thing to remain in good health for just two years.

But what about staying healthy for the long haul? Researchers looked at that, as well.

“For 447 patients who were evaluated for optimism as part of a comprehensive medical evaluation between 1962 and 1965, the benefits of a positive outlook were desirable indeed," researchers found. "Over a 30-year period, optimism was linked to a better outcome on eight measures of physical and mental function and health.”

A more recent study in the U.S. took 6,959 students into consideration. The students all did a comprehensive personality test when they entered the University of North Carolina in the mid-1960s, and then researchers followed up years later.

In the next four decades, 476 of the people died from a variety of causes, with cancer being the most common.

“All in all, pessimism took a substantial toll; the most pessimistic individuals had a 42% higher rate of death than the most optimistic,” the study says.

So next time you have a choice on how to view your current situation, maybe it would make sense to look at the sunny side. Right?


Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story focused on late people living longer because lateness is also a common trait of optimistic people, according to this Inc. report we cited at the time.

The Harvard study mentioned above focuses on optimism only, not tardiness. We apologize for the mistake.

Graham Media Group 2019