Life Wellbeing How a happy attitude can help keep you alive

How a happy attitude can help keep you alive

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Putting a smile on your dial won’t help you live longer, but it will stop you dying sooner, Australian research suggests.

People who are strongly pessimistic about the future were likely to die an average of two years earlier than their more optimistic counterparts.

The research came from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and involved about 3000 Australians, and isn’t the first time the link between pessimism and increased mortality rates has been explored.

It is, however, the first time we’ve seen research reveal that being an optimist does not necessarily extend your life beyond average.

In short, just looking on the bright side of everything won’t guarantee you a longer life.

“We found people who were strongly pessimistic about the future were more likely to die earlier from cardiovascular diseases and other causes of death, but not from cancer,” lead researcher Dr John Whitfield said.

“Optimism scores on the other hand did not show a significant relationship with death, either positive or negative.”

Proving the link

So why does the way we view a glass affect our life expectancy? That’s still what researchers need to nail down, Dr Whitfield said.

There are two theories that could be at play.

One is that optimistic people are more inclined to look after themselves – choosing healthier diets and lifestyles.

Furthermore, the psychological knock-on effects of a pessimistic attitude could affect the body’s immune system and vascular function.

To compile this data, researchers from the Brisbane-based institute took results from a survey of Australians aged 50-plus from the early 90s, which included questions about their outlook on life.

It’s a tough world to be born into, but a happy tune makes things sweeter. Photo: Getty

They then checked the participants against the national death register in 2017.

They found one-third of the participants had died – their answers from the survey went on to influence the research findings.

The finer details

Although it would be easy to relate pessimism with later life and the higher chance of contracting a disease that could kill them earlier than their disease-free peers, Dr Whitfield said the results did not demonstrate this was the case.

“We think it’s unlikely that the disease caused the pessimism because we did not find that people who died from cancer had registered a strong pessimism score in their tests,” he said.

“If illness was leading to higher pessimism scores, it should have applied to cancers as well as to cardiovascular disease.”

There’s still research to be done in unlocking just what it is about a dour mindset that can negatively affect our health.

“Understanding that our long-term health can be influenced by whether we’re a cup-half-full or cup-half-empty kind of person might be the prompt we need to try to change the way we face the world, and try to reduce negativity, even in really difficult circumstances,” Dr Whitfield said.

These study findings were published in the Scientific Reports journal.