We’re not alone in believing in the power of optimism. In a comprehensive new study, scientists found that individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer and to achieve “exceptional longevity”—that is, living to age 85 or older. By optimism, the scientists are referring 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 uses survey data collected from 69,744 women and 1,429 men. Both groups completed survey questions to assess their level of optimism, as well as their overall health and habits, such as diet, smoking, and alcohol use. Researchers followed the women for 10 years and the men for 30 years.
When they compared individuals based on their initial levels of optimism, the researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11% to 15% longer life span, and had 50% to 70% greater odds of reaching 85 years of age compared to the least optimistic groups.
The results held after researchers accounted for age, demographic factors, such as educational attainment, chronic diseases, and depression, and health behaviors, such as alcohol use, exercise, diet, and primary care visits. Although it’s a bit unclear how exactly optimism helps people attain a longer life, it does strengthen the case for bringing more optimism into our day-to-day lives.