New research suggests that people who have an optimistic outlook on the world can live longer, healthier lives because they have fewer stressful events to deal with.
According to the scientists behind the study, while optimists react to and recover from stressful situations in the same way as pessimists, optimists do better emotionally because they had fewer stressful events in their daily lives.
It’s not clear how optimists minimize their dose of stress, but researchers believe they avoid arguments, lost keys, traffic jams, and other irritations, or simply don’t perceive them as stressful in the first place.
Previous studies have found evidence that optimists live longer, healthier livesBut researchers don’t fully understand why having a glass-half-full attitude might contribute to healthy aging.
“Given previous work linking optimism to longevity, healthy aging, and lower risks of major disease, it seemed a logical next step to study whether optimism might protect against the effects of stress among older adults.”said Dr. Lewina Lee, a clinical psychologist at the Boston Veterans Affairs Health System and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University.
Lee and his colleagues analyzed the information provided by 233 men who were at least 21 years old when they enrolled in the US Veterans Aging Normative Study between 1961 and 1970. Surveys in the 1980s and 1990s assessed men’s levels of optimism.
Between 2002 and 2010, they completed up to three eight-day diaries recording their mood and any stressful situations they encountered.
The researchers suspected that optimists might bounce back more quickly than pessimists and get back in a good mood faster after a stressful event. But the data did not confirm it.
“We found that more optimistic men reported fewer daily stressors, which partly explains their lower levels of negative mood,” said Lee to TheGuardian.
“That suggested to us that perhaps the more optimistic men limited their exposure to stressful situations, or that they were less likely to perceive or label situations as stressful.”he added.
Although the study published in Journals of Gerontology focused on older men, Lee said he hoped the findings would apply to older women as well. “Less is known about age differences in the role of optimism in health,” he added.
Levels of optimism or pessimism tend to be fairly stable throughout people’s lives, but Lee believes there are ways to encourage a more optimistic outlook for those who want it.
“One way to become more optimistic is to develop an awareness of how we internally react to or judge a situation,” said.
The expert explained that the automatic reaction often involves a negative evaluation or a worst-case scenario, but if we can identify this and try to devise different ways of dealing with the situation, a progressive change in perception can occur.
“More optimistic thinking does not mean being unreasonably optimistic or ignoring risks, which is a common misconception about optimism. It may involve acknowledging our strengths, past examples of success, and areas we have control over, so that we can come to a more positive and confident outlook.”he added.
Professor Andrew Steptoe, head of health and behavioral sciences at UCL, who was not involved in the study, said optimists can actually lead more trouble-free stocks than pessimists.
They may be easier to get along with than pessimists, and therefore come into conflict less often, for example. Or they are simply less likely to view daily incidents as stressful.
“If you have an optimistic disposition, it seems quite plausible that you don’t find the relatively trivial events in your life stressful,” said.
However, it’s hard to say what the findings mean for well-being, he added, although he acknowledges evidence suggesting that more optimism and less pessimism mean less future health risk.
“This could be related to lifestyle (more physical activity, better diet, less smoking), although optimism also has biological correlates, such as lower systemic inflammation, which can protect health”he explained.