Do you consider yourself more of a Positive Patty, or are you admittedly a little bit of a Debbie Downer? We know it's impossible to be happy and hopeful literally all. the. time., but new research suggests it might not hurt to start seeking out a a little bit o' positivity whenever you can: According to a December 2016 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, being optimistic is linked to a better chance at long life.
To conduct the study, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data from a previous study that looked at the health of more than 70,000 female participants with an average age of 70. Throughout the course of this eight-year study, women were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with different statements, such as "In uncertain times, I usually expect the best." Their levels of optimism were rated based on their responses.
Ultimately, the Harvard researchers found that the women who were more optimistic also had a significantly reduced risk of dying from various diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and infection. In fact, those participants who ranked highest on the optimism test had a nearly 30 percent lower risk of dying from the conditions studied than the Negative Nancys of the bunch. Plus, they had a 38 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease and a whopping 52 percent lower risk of dying from infection.
Study co-author Eric Kim, PhD, told TODAY that the researchers believe that a little bit of positivity can help people develop healthier behaviors and become better at coping with life challenges. Optimism also might affect your biological functioning by lowering inflammation and upping your antioxidant game, Dr. Kim said.
But if you're a perpetual worrywart, try not to fret: Kaitlin Hagan, ScD, MPH, another co-author on the study, claims that you can actually work to increase your optimism. One of her tips for improving your outlook? Taking stock of what you're thankful for: "One can improve their optimism by writing down the things they are most grateful in their life," she says.
Now, despite this study's large sample size, more research is needed to determine how much the power of positivity really relates to health. Participants were all female and only answered a small set of statements, which might have limited the results. Plus, the most optimistic participants also had higher levels of education and physical activity, which could affect their longevity. And, of course, it's important to note that this study only found a correlation between optimism and longer life — not causation.
The bottom line: If being grateful for the life you live has been linked to living longer, there's no harm in finding reasons to be positive. And isn't being optimistic more fun than being pessimistic, anyway?