Updated 14 August 2020

Always anticipating the worst? Your pessimism could shorten your life

Dwelling on the downside all the time makes you likely to die two years earlier than the average person, according to new research.

  • Persistent pessimism can cut years off your life
  • Researchers believe that pessimistic people are likely to die earlier from e.g. cardiovascular disease
  • This may be because pessimists don’t take care of themselves and their health

Shutting down the inner pessimist could mean a longer life. That’s according to  a new study published in the journal Nature.

The researchers, from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia, found that those who were strongly pessimistic about the present or future died about two years earlier than the average person.

Cardiovascular disease and other causes of death were associated with pessimism. According to the researchers, pessimists don’t take care of themselves and their health, resulting in their health declining more quickly than that of others.

Optimists enjoy better sleep quality

Many people believe that looking on the bright side has positive outcomes. A 2019 study, for example, believes that seeing the glass half-full not only makes you happier, but also leads to a better quality of life and better sleep.

Health24 also reported on research published last year that showed that having an upbeat view of life may increase your odds of "exceptional longevity" (defined as living to age 85 or older). The findings of this study build on earlier research that, like the latest study, links optimism to lower risks of chronic illness and premature death.

Pessimists don't look after themselves properly

The data of the recently published study came from a mid-1990s questionnaire of almost 3 000 participants over 50. The questionnaire was part of the Life Orientation Test (LOT), which looked at the health of Australians between 1993 and 1995 with follow-up information available through the end of 2009.

Participants were given a score on an optimism-pessimism scale, which was based on how  much they agreed or disagreed with optimistic and pessimistic statements, for example: "I'm always optimistic about my future" or "If something can go wrong for me, it will." They found that under 9% of respondents identified as being strongly pessimistic.

"We've been following up some of the people who've taken part in our studies," lead researcher Dr John Whitfield told ABC news, adding: "People who are pessimistic might be thought to not look after themselves and their health as well – they might think there's no point in following advice about diet and exercise and so on.

"There are indications that optimistic and pessimistic attitudes can have effects on brain and blood biochemistry, inflammation perhaps on the arterial wall. "There are biological aspects as well as more social or personal psychological aspects to this."

These findings might just be the motivation that is needed for people to flip a constant negative mindset, said Whitfield.


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