Why do optimistic people live longer?

The simple answer is that they want to.  If you ask a roomful of people if they want to live until they are 100, the ones who raise their hands instantly are the optimists.  Lots of people will raise their hands halfway and put conditions on their longevity.  “Well … if I am healthy, well … if I have enough money in the bank, sure … as long as I am ‘with it’.”  The optimists, who on average live 7-8 years longer than pessimists, shoot their hands up with a bring-it-on attitude.  They assume everything will be fine and they envision their senior years surrounded by family and friends.  The pessimists picture infirmity, senility and hardship.  I envy the optimists and their positivity.  We don’t know when we are going to die.  Why not expect the best?  Normally, I would also envy their naivete but this week, I am optimistic, joining the ranks of the blissfully ignorant … oops, I mean joining the ranks of the unrealistically joyful.  Damn!  I did it again.  This positive stuff is harder than it looks.  As far as your health goes, it may be worth a try.

1.  Optimistic people have significantly reduced risk of dying from heart disease.  The Women’s Health Initiative which studied 162,000 women over a 15 year period of time, found that the most optimistic women had a 9% lower risk of developing heart disease. African American women who scored the highest on the optimism scale had a 33% lower risk than their pessimistic contemporaries of developing heart disease.

2.  Overall, optimistic people have a 14% decreased risk of dying from all causes.

3.  Optimistic people are less likely to suffer from diabetes, depression and stroke.  My hypothesis is that they are also less like to be killed by people who know them.  Although, the whole Pollyanna schtick does get old pretty fast.  (I can’t help myself.)

It seems that optimistic people live longer because they suffer from fewer health issues.  But, why is their overall health better?  No one knows for sure, but there are theories that make a lot of sense.

4.  Optimistic people, by nature, are happier and more peaceful.  They have better ways of coping with stress.  They enjoy more satisfying, healthier relationships.

5.  This overall, positive outlook gives them more energy to exercise, gives them incentive to stay on diet plans and to take their medications.  Optimistic people experience pain differently, heal more quickly after injury or surgery and are more likely to seek medical advice and follow it.

THAT’s IT!  I am going to be more positive – staaaarrrting now!  This is easier said than done.  I am the type of person who has already told my husband what kind of funeral I want and how long he has to wait after I am dead to marry that tramp.  I am not a worrier.  Worriers are different than pessimists.  I just assume that something will go wrong and when it doesn’t, I am pleasantly surprised.  Tomorrow, I am going to tell you (and myself) how to change a negative attitude and thereby, add years to your life.  We are not going to talk about how those years will be spent drooling in a nursing home.

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