Cheer Up, You'll Live Longer

Can you find the fountain of youth in your own mind?

Are you an Oscar the Grouch type, reveling in the midst of misery? Do you connect with Eeyore, a forlorn pessimist with only an occasional glint of joy? You might want to check your life insurance policy.

Study after study has linked a positive outlook to longevity. Optimists report having fewer health problems or difficulties with their work or social life; they experience less pain, have more energy and are happier, calmer and more peaceful. “Optimists appear to have a lower risk of death even when we take in all these important factors like smoking, diabetes, hypertension, income and race,” says Hilary Tindle, M.D., M.P.H. She recently led a research team at the University of Pittsburgh that analyzed data from the Women’s Health Initiative, an ongoing research project that started following 100,000 women over age 50 in 1994. Tindle’s team found that eight years into the study, the most optimistic women were 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 14 percent less likely to die compared to women with a pessimistic outlook.

Another recent paper details a 40-year study at the Mayo Clinic that followed 7,000 participants who took a personality test in the early 1960s. For every 100 people who participated, the 25 most pessimistic, anxious and depressed had a 30 percent higher chance of dying younger than the optimists at the head of the pack. Since this study focused only on pessimistic and negative traits, lead author Walter Rocca, M.D., M.P.H., plans to investigate the positive side in the future.

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