Having a sunny disposition can add years to a life, new research shows.
Optimists lived 4.4 years longer on average and had a greater chance of reaching age 90 than those who take a gloomier view of the world, according to a study by Harvard University and Boston University School of Medicine.
Researchers gathered data from nearly 160,000 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative from 1993 to 1998. The survey followed postmenopausal women from across racial and ethnic groups for 26 years — or as long as they were alive during that period — and assessed their responses to positive and negative statements in a questionnaire.
Healthy lifestyle factors such as physical activity, healthy eating habits, smoking and alcohol use accounted for less than a quarter of the association held by longevity and optimism, according to the study.
Pandemic rift seen widening mortality gap between U.S. Republicans and Democrats
You probably won’t live past 110 unless you already possess a rare combination of super genes: researchers
“Our findings suggest that there’s value to focusing on positive psychological factors, like optimism, as possible new ways of promoting longevity and healthy aging across diverse groups,” said Hayami Koga, lead author and postdoctoral student at Harvard in a media statement.
“Although optimism itself may be affected by social structural factors, such as race and ethnicity, our research suggests that the benefits of optimism may hold across diverse groups,” noted Koga.
The researchers found that the women who were most optimistic — those in the top 25 per cent of the group — lived 5.4 per cent longer and had a 10 per cent greater likelihood of living beyond 90 years old than their peers in the lowest quarter.
The benefits persisted even when accounting for lifespan-reducing challenges such as depression, chronic ailments and poor education.
Previous studies have linked the benefits of optimism to healthier eating and exercise habits and better cardiovascular and immune system function.
While optimism is partly inherited, it’s also conditioned by the way we respond to life’s problems. A meta-analysis from 2016 found one of the best ways to increase optimism is through the “Best Possible Self” method. It asks people to imagine a future in which their goals and desires are all fulfilled.
Other strategies experts recommend to attain a more positive outlook consist of keeping a gratitude journal, focusing on our accomplishments and seeing our setbacks as only temporary — or even as opportunities in disguise.
While the reason optimism is good for health is unknown, chronic stress has been linked to increased risk of physiological problems, the authors point out. This includes changes in brain chemistry, high blood pressure and heart problems.