The Rise of Realism

Science now sees optimism and pessimism not as good or bad outlooks you're born with but as mind-sets to adopt as situations demand. So let's be realistic, mix of pessimism and optimism will get you far.

The Virtues of Pessimism

Why pessimism might help you live longer

Believe it or not, having a negative outlook may be the secret to living a longer life.  Indeed, while it may not make for a happier life, a recent German study found that the more pessimistic people were about their future life satisfaction, the less likely they were to die early or become disabled.

While I have explored this theme in previous posts (i.e., “why optimism can be bad for you mental health,” and “the negative path to happiness”), this is, perhaps, the first time that pessimism has been shown to be significantly correlated with longevity.

The study researchers asked subjects to rate how happy they expected to be in 5 years on a scale of 0 (totally miserable) to 10 (blissfully happy).  Based on data from an impressive sample of 40,000 people between the ages of 18 and 96, it was discovered that for every point by which a person overestimated his or her future happiness, there was a 10% higher likelihood that that person would die or become disabled in the following decade.

The authors of the study conjectured that pessimism about the future may encourage people to take fewer risks, be more vigilant about their medical health, and generally take more safety precautions.

The study also found, rather unexpectedly, that the healthy and wealthy subjects were the most likely to expect the worst.  Thus, they fared better than those who had low incomes and poor health, which wasn’t too surprising.  Similarly, people over 65 were the most pessimistic about their future happiness while those under 40 were the most unrealistically optimistic.

Hence, the conclusion of the study is that the more pessimistic you are the longer you will live.  So, if we extrapolate from this research, we might want to cultivate a negative outlook which is often associated with unhappiness.  Thus, even if you don’t actually live longer, it still might feel that way.

Remember:  Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.


Forecasting Life Satisfaction Across Adulthood: Benefits of Seeing a Dark Future?

Lang, Frieder R.; Weiss, David; Gerstorf, Denis; Wagner, Gert G.

Psychology and Aging, Feb 18 , 2013.

The Rise of Realism