Optimists May Live Longer than Pessimists, Study Says

Female optimists look less likely to die early from cancer, stroke, and more.

Seeing that glass as half full may be the key to a long, healthy life, according to research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a study published Wednesday in the American Journal of Epidemiology, Harvard researchers conclude that optimists—specifically female optimists—may live longer than their cynical peers. In fact, individuals with hopeful dispositions may be roughly 30 percent less likely to die early from cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and infection.

Part of the reason is probably that optimists are more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices that help prevent disease, such as exercising regularly and eating well. But the study—which for eight years analyzed the optimism levels, health, and behavioral patterns of 70,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study—suggests that looking on the bright side may directly affect an individual’s biology, too.

“While most medical and public health efforts today focus on reducing risk factors for diseases, evidence has been mounting that enhancing psychological resilience may also make a difference,” co-lead author Eric Kim said in a statement.

Optimism looks to cut premature death risk by approximately 30 percent overall, but certain conditions seem to be more closely tied to it than others. For example, the most optimistic women in the study were 52 percent less likely to die of infection than the most pessimistic women; 39 percent less likely to die of stroke; and 38 percent less likely to die of heart or respiratory disease, but only 16 percent less likely to die of cancer.

If you identify as a pessimist, try to look on the bright side anyway. Co-lead author Kaitlin Hagan points out in the statement that you can choose to become more optimistic, and that activities such as writing down the best possible outcomes of life scenarios may help. It’s worth a shot, right?