Pessimists Live Longer [Study]

glass half full versus glass half empty

A new study, published by the American Psychological Association in Psychology and Aging, suggests a glass half empty perception on life may mean you’ll live longer.

“Forecasting Life Satisfaction Across Adulthood: Benefits of Seeing a Dark Future,” focuses on how optimistic and pessimistic perceptions of one’s predicted lifelong satisfaction can contribute to health in adulthood and old age.

Researchers collected data on an adult lifespan sampling of approximately 40,000 people, 18 to 96 years of age. They used the National German Socio-Economic Panel, an annual survey, from 1993 to 2003. Data was subcategorized by age groups: 18 to 39 years old, 40 to 64 years old, and 65 years old and above. Outcomes correlating anticipation of future life satisfaction interviews were performed across six subsequent five year intervals.

Five years after the initial interview it was determined 43 percent of the oldest group had underestimated their future life satisfaction, 25 percent had predicted accurately, and 32 percent had overestimated. Of those who overestimated in the older group, 9.5 percent reported disabilities and 10 percent an increased risk of death.

In general, younger adults made overestimated predictions. In contrast older adults had a more jaded perception, underestimating their overall life satisfaction. Middle-aged adults made the most accurate predictions but became more pessimistic over time.

Realistically low expectations lead to less disappointment in comparison to having quixotically lofty expectations. The stress over dissatisfaction, stimulated from unforeseen events, takes a toll on the health. Those anticipating dissatisfaction, although negative, are more psychologically and emotionally prepared to cope with unpleasant life events.


According to the lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany:

“Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade … Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.”

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