Why seeing the glass as half full could save your life

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Shutterstock.com/ Gustavo Frazao

When Bob Marley sang the words “Don’t worry, be happy” it was not just a pleasant song but a philosophy for life. The simple phrase is often forgotten when worries do start to raise their ugly head. In modern life especially, more people than ever before are worried about the little things in life. The world is becoming increasingly pessimistic. A new study has now shown that being pessimistic can actually shorten your life expectancy. If there was ever a reason to see the bright side, this is it.

It can be tough to stay positive in a world that is dominated by the primarily negative 24-hour news media, social bullying and the rat race of work. Yet the latest research now indicates that this may be killing us. The study was from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in the Journal of Epidemiology. It analyzed the health results and outlook of 70,000 women over the course of eight years. The detailed study, with a strong sample size that is far larger than most pieces of study in the field, has earned a significant amount of credibility. Every two years the women would fill out a survey that measured how optimistic they were about future uncertainties. 

If they took a positive outlook about the unknown they were seen as positive people, if they saw the world as negative then clearly they were pessimistic. The study combined this with their health records over time and the results were substantial.

The most optimistic ladies (those in the top 25%) were found to have close to a 30% lower chance of dying from any disease in the study compared to the bottom 25%. More specifically it appears that being optimistic gives you a 16% lower chance of dying from cancer, a 38% lower chance of dying from heart or respiratory disease and a nearly 40% lower chance of dying from stroke. 

Upon reading these statistics we were in disbelief. Surely the study had overlooked some factors as the results were astounding. Yet it appears not. We initially thought that maybe the most pessimistic people were already sick and therefore it would be clear why they had a negative outlook on the future, but no, this was a controlled factor. The study also controlled for things like social status, education level, and other socio-economic factors. It appears they did their due diligence to ensure the validity of these figures

Of course, it is an observational study so we can only say that there is a correlation, not causation. The opposite may still be true, that good health leads to more positivity or that some third factor explains both. For example it may be the case that exercising makes you a more positive person and helps you live longer. Yet the study did do their best to factor these out of the findings as well.

The researchers say that these health benefits were certainly a factor but could not explain the full result. When all these aspects were removed there was still some element that remained that appeared to be caused by positivity itself. The researchers stated that optimism leads to lower inflammation and other leading identifiers of negative health scores. The researchers will now move on to analyze the direct cause of positive feelings on the biological aspects of a person. Moving away from an observational study will allow them to clarify the exact contribution of being positive on your health and life expectancy. 

Whether it is causation, correlation or coincidence the evidence is pretty strong. It appears that being positive really can help you live longer. Whatever the explanation, it is a good excuse to start being a more positive person today.