The Personality Trait Linked To Longer Life

This personality trait can be boosted using simple exercises.

This personality trait can be boosted using simple exercises.

People who are optimistic tend to live longer, research finds.

In fact, being optimistic — a trait that can be boosted — can increase the odds of reaching 85-years-old by up to 70 percent.

Optimism has also been linked to better memory, psychological resilience and higher quality of life.

Optimistic people tend to expect positive outcomes in the future.

Critically, optimists believe they can control their lives and make improvements.

So, optimistic people may live longer partly because they develop healthier behaviours.

Psychological resilience is also a factor, said Dr Eric Kim, the study’s first author:

“While most medical and public health efforts today focus on reducing risk factors for diseases, evidence has been mounting that enhancing psychological resilience may also make a difference.

Our new findings suggest that we should make efforts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviors and healthier ways of coping with life challenges.”

The study included 70,021 nurses, whose health was tracked over six years.

The results showed that the most optimistic women had a 30 percent lower risk of dying than the least optimistic women.

Among the reduced risks linked to optimism were:

  • 38 percent lower chance of dying from heart disease,
  • 52 percent lower chance of dying from infection,
  • 16 percent lower chance of dying from cancer.

Optimism can be learned

The good news is that optimism is not fixed in stone.

Exercises such as visualising your ‘best possible self‘ have been shown to increase optimism.

Here is how I’ve previously explained the exercise:

Visualising your best possible self may sound like an exercise in fantasy but, crucially, it does have to be realistic.

Carrying out this exercise typically involves imagining your life in the future, but a future where everything that could go well, has gone well.

You have reached those realistic goals that you have set for yourself.

Then, to help cement your visualisation, you commit your best possible self to paper.

This exercise draws on the proven benefits of expressive writing.

The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (Kim et al., 2016).

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.

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