Can looking on the bright side help us live longer?
What new research says about optimism and longevity (and why researchers say a healthy outlook may have just as much benefit on your lifespan as working out).
Nearly 160,000 women ranging from 50-79 years old.
Participants were followed for up to 26 years and routinely asked questions about their outlook.
What sets this study apart from others: It included a diverse background of women, and found that optimism and longevity are associated across racial and ethnic groups (previous research mainly involved "non-Hispanic White populations").
"Our findings suggest the impact of optimism may be comparable to that of exercise."
Researchers say optimism is associated with an increase in lifespan of roughly 4.4 years on average — comparable to other research which shows regular exercise adds upwards of 4 years to your life. The end conclusion? "Higher optimism levels were associated with longer lifespan and greater likelihood of achieving exceptional longevity" (defined as living longer than 90 years).
“Despite popular belief, being optimistic is not about being positive all the time, and it is certainly not about being ‘devoid of reality.' A true optimist is someone who is mindfully aware of the roadblocks and setbacks … but they see them as temporary and as things that they have the power to overcome.”
Ph.D. candidate Hayami Koga, M.D., M.P.H., Dept. of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard and the lead author of this study, which found the most optimistic women have a 10% greater likelihood of living 90+ years.
Researchers did note that optimists may have other factors that benefit them — tending to have "greater social support" or "use problem-solving and planning strategies to minimize health risks" — but that lifestyle factors in general were "modest" in impact. They note that their study is consistent with previous research showing an association between optimism and a longer life.
Our next question: Is this true for men as well?
Overview of study: High optimism linked with longer life and living past 90 in women across racial, ethnic groups (Harvard)
High Hopes: Optimism Helps Women Live Longer (HealthDay News)
Merriam-Webster definition of optimism
From a November/December 2021 study from the Survey Center on American Life — "The survey asked respondents to think about the future of the United States and whether or not one is generally pessimistic or optimistic about it going forward. The national picture shows a fairly even split: Forty-seven percent of Americans are either very or somewhat optimistic while another 53 percent are generally somewhat or very pessimistic."
by Jenna Lee,