The Positive Personality Trait That Increases With Age

The study underlines the surprising resilience of the human mind in the face of life’s tragedies.

The study underlines the surprising resilience of the human mind in the face of life’s tragedies.

People get more optimistic as they get older, research finds.

From the age of 15 until mid-life, people’s optimism tends to increase and remains at a high until they reach their 60s or 70s, when it starts to drop again.

Even health problems, divorce and bereavement fail to dent people’s fundamental optimism.

The study underlines the surprising resilience of the human mind in the face of life’s tragedies.

Dr William Chopik, the study’s first author, said:

“We found that optimism continued to increase throughout young adulthood, seemed to steadily plateau and then decline into older adulthood.

Even people with fairly bad circumstances, who have had tough things happen in their lives, look to their futures and life ahead and felt optimistic.”

The study included 75,000 people in the US, Germany and the Netherlands.

They were asked about their levels of optimism, along with life events such as new jobs, marriage, divorce and bereavements.

Dr Chopik was surprised by how the most serious life events affected people’s optimism:

“Counterintuitively — and most surprising — we found that really hard things like deaths and divorce really didn’t change a person’s outlook to the future.

This shows that a lot of people likely subscribe to the ‘life is short’ mantra and realize they should focus on things that make them happy and maintain emotional balance.”

The results showed that, on average, people become more optimistic between 15 and 60 or 70 years old.

Dr Chopik said:

“There’s a massive stretch of life during which you keep consistently looking forward to things and the future.

Part of that has to do with experiencing success both in work and life.

You find a job, you meet your significant other, you achieve your goals and so on.

You become more autonomous and you are somewhat in control of your future; so, you tend to expect things to turn out well.”

Old age brings a decline in optimism as people face health concerns and their own death.

Nevertheless, people do not become fully fledged pessimists, said Dr Chopik:

“Retirement age is when people can stop working, have time to travel and to pursue their hobbies.

But very surprisingly, people didn’t really think that it would change the outlook of their lives for the better.”

People’s resilience is remarkable, Dr Chopik said:

“We oftentimes think that the really sad or tragic things that happen in life completely alter us as people, but that’s not really the case.

You don’t fundamentally change as a result of terrible things; people diagnosed with an illness or those who go through another crisis still felt positive about the future and what life had ahead for them on the other side.”

The study was published in the Journal of Research in Personality (Chopik et al., 2020).

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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.

It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.

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Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.