For some people, optimism comes easy, while for others it takes a lot of work. Having an optimistic attitude can help a person to feel happier, lighter, and more engaged with their life. There are also many myths about optimism, though despite the proven merits of what psychologists call “defensive pessimism”, keeping a positive outlook still seems to win out in terms of the benefits it offers.
Now, new research from Harvard University is suggesting that optimism may have more than just mental health benefits. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society now links optimism to people with longer lifespans, hinting that those with a better outlook on life actually may live the longest.
Background: Debunking Optimism Myths
While some may think optimists only see sunshine and rainbows while ignoring reality, this isn’t entirely true. Many psychologists posit that optimism is believing that the outcomes of decisions or situations will generally be positive. Optimists tend to accept their reality, but hope it will work for the good. Because of this outlook, optimists tend to see mistakes, failures, and negative experiences as temporary instead of permanent. This, in turn, helps optimistic individuals to bounce back from a difficult situation at a faster and more efficient rate. Having a better bounce-back rate can help these individuals learn from their mistakes faster, and continue moving forward in a more productive manner.
Analysis: Happier Could Be Healthier
The mental benefits of being an optimist seem to be paired with physical benefits as well. Previous research has linked optimistic individuals to lower risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and infection. Now, a new study has suggested something more, that being an optimist can make you live longer.
The study’s researchers from Harvard University surveyed a group of 159,255 women of many different ethnicities and ages. From their survey, the researchers found that higher levels of optimism were associated with longer lifespans, including a greater chance of living past 90 years old.
According to the lead author Hayami K. Koga from Harvard University, “Although optimism itself may be patterned by social structural factors, our findings suggest that the benefits of optimism for longevity may hold across racial and ethnic groups.” The study’s data reflected this statement as the benefits of being more optimistic were similar across all ethnicities.
Outlook: Leaning Toward Optimism
The results of this study suggest that a simple attitude shift could help increase your body’s health. For many looking to live and act healthier, thinking more positively could be the first step. While this may be an easy step for some, it will likely prove to be more of a habit to develop for others. While many individuals look to change their dieting habits, or exercise routines in order to feel better and younger, something as simple as an attitude change is also impactful.
Our attitudes and overall perspectives tend to be overlooked when we work on bettering ourselves. The recent study suggests that individuals need to look broadly at their own attitudes in order to think more positively and productively. Ultimately, changing how we think could not only boost our mental health, but as the Harvard study shows, our physical health will likely benefit as well.
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a staff writer at the Debrief and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). She focuses on deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology. You can find more of her work at her website: https://kennacastleberry.com/