March 01, 2011
Happier People Live Longer

Pessimists do not stick around as long.

“We reviewed eight different types of studies,” Diener said. “And the general conclusion from each type of study is that your subjective well-being – that is, feeling positive about your life, not stressed out, not depressed – contributes to both longevity and better health among healthy populations.”

A study that followed nearly 5,000 university students for more than 40 years, for example, found that those who were most pessimistic as students tended to die younger than their peers. An even longer-term study that followed 180 Catholic nuns from early adulthood to old age found that those who wrote positive autobiographies in their early 20s tended to outlive those who wrote more negative accounts of their young lives.

Of course there's the question of the direction of cause and effect. People with better health will be happier. Ditto smart people who see their way to success. A healthier and more capable body and mind has greater odds of having what it takes to go the distance.

There were a few exceptions, but most of the long-term studies the researchers reviewed found that anxiety, depression, a lack of enjoyment of daily activities and pessimism all are associated with higher rates of disease and a shorter lifespan.

Of course you might be thinking defeatist thoughts at this point: "My pessimistic outlook means I shouldn't even try to exercise and eat better since I'll die young regardless".

The message here is clear: Always Look On The Bright Side of Life .

Also, of course: Don't Worry Be Happy .

What other happy long-life songs am I missing?

Update: Employees who are expected to smile at work are better off fantasizing to feel good rather than faking smiles.

A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts – such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital – improve their mood and withdraw less.

So think positive thoughts about a tropical island or a road trip or a night on the town.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 March 01 11:30 PM  Aging Studies

PacRim Jim said at March 2, 2011 12:12 AM:

The pessimists were right, after all.

Lono said at March 2, 2011 8:44 AM:

Mankind rules all the Earth totally unchallenged.

Every animal on this planet - even the whale - is our bitch.

Anyone who gets all upset because they got some kind of emotional issue or financial issue needs to get things in friggin' perspective.

Sure we got problems - but mostly due to other people - so get out of town once in a while and get back to the fact that we are the f'in masters of our domain - and this planet and everything on it - is but our plaything!

If you are losing sleep trying to keep up with the Jonses you're doin' it wrong.

Optimisim FTW people!!!!!

LoboSolo said at March 2, 2011 9:12 AM:

I usually avoid politics but this is too easy ... I guess that means that all the doom and gloom liberals will die before the conservatives ... between this and abortions, it doesn't look good for liberals ... their numbers continue to shrink.

Lou Pagnucco said at March 2, 2011 9:51 AM:

Maybe this accounts for the longevity of moderate drinkers.

No question, though, that other unnatural paths to mental tranquility are dangerous to health.

cancer_man said at March 2, 2011 2:03 PM:


Do optimists live two weeks longer or one week longer than pessimists? I didn't see that in the article.

Lou Pagnucco said at March 2, 2011 8:23 PM:

There are exceptions - Japan and Hong Kong enjoy long lives while not enjoying life too much.

See - "World Happiness Rankings"

Ed Unneland said at March 3, 2011 7:04 AM:

There's always the happy, happy, joy, joy song from Ren and Stimpy :-) ...

JGreene said at March 3, 2011 11:57 AM:

There is no doubt that most of our personality traits are genetic. Of course, much of our programming is done after we are born and in our younger years. However, smiling and internalizing that feeling does indeed improve ones attitude and affects our autonomous body functions.

How do I know? I don't have the statistical evidence at hand here, just a lifetime of anecdotal evidence that is over 50 years of experience. Feeling "lousy", think of something you are grateful for, be grateful, smile...feel it and your life will improve - if only for that moment or minute or hour or day. After all, we live in the moment/s of our lives.

PunditGeorge said at March 3, 2011 1:29 PM:

Although attributed to Lincoln, it's something Ben Franklin would endorse as would many philosphers, and that is a person is about as happy as he/she makes up their mind to be. It really is a matter of attention. Anyone who mortgagges their "happy" to the behavior or actions of someone/something else, is, well, never going to have that feeling. Our nature is to interpret what our fabulous senses detect, then choose a response according to our interpretation. Don't Worry, Be Happy is a lot more profound...

Juliemarg said at March 3, 2011 3:21 PM:

I got the world on a string -- on the sunny side of the street

Tina said at March 3, 2011 6:01 PM:

PunditGeorge, a customer today remarked that I am always cheerful and asked how I manage that. I replied "Mark Twain or Will Rogers or someone said 'most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be' and I decided a long time ago I might as well be pleasant to be around." How funny to read it here within a few hours!

and JGreene, you are so on the mark. I smile when I am alone, in my car, anywhere. One moment of positive thinking leads more easily to one more optimistic moment. The act of smiling itself cheers us up. I think the fantasizing part the article talks about may be the other way around (at least for some of us): if I am smiling, more pleasant memories come to mind than if I have no expression on my face. Of course, I come from an emotionally honest & expressive family - things may be different if one was raised to view a smile as a mask or a requirement.

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