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Study: Optimism Can Lengthen Your Life

Seeing the glass half full won’t just improve your outlook on life — it can also affect your physical well-being, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Harvard  T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that optimistic individuals on average live longer than pessimistic people.

“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,” said the study’s lead author, Hayami Koga, a Ph.D. student at Harvard. “A lot of previous work has focused on deficits or risk factors that increase the risks for diseases and premature death. 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.”

In a previous study, researchers had determined that optimism was linked to a longer lifespan and exceptional longevity (85 years old and up). However, the initial study mostly survey White populations, leading Koga and her fellow researchers to widen the student to accurately include other racial and ethnic groups. Koga said they wanted to widen the scope because these groups have higher mortality rates than White populations, but there is not as much research available to help inform public health decisions.

For their study, Koga and her team analyzed data and survey responses from over 150,000 participants through the Women’s Health Initiative. Women between the ages of 50-79 enrolled in the study from 1993 to 1998 and were surveyed for up to 26 years.

The results of the study found that 25 percent who were defined as “the most optimistic” were likely to have a 5.4 percent longer lifespan as well as a 10 percent greater likelihood of living beyond 90 years compared to the 25 percent who were labeled as “the least optimistic.”

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Koga hopes the results will reframe how society views their overall health.

“We tend to focus on the negative risk factors that affect our health,” said Koga. “It is also important to think about the positive resources, such as optimism, that may be beneficial to our health, especially if we see that these benefits are seen across racial and ethnic groups.”

While there’s a clear correlation between optimism and our well-being, it can be hard to see the bright side of life when our world seems to be full of bad news. Global disasters, political strife, massive loss and more can leave us feeling more pessimistic than we’d like. But there are ways to still remain hopeful in the midst of headlines that will help improve our immediate outlook on life as well as the (hopefully) long life ahead.

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