Maybe there’s a reason the phrase “grumpy old man” is more common than “cheery old man.” New research suggests people who are pessimistic and fear for the future are more likely to live longer.
The study, by reserachers at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, found older people with low expectations for a satisfying future are generally healthier and have longer life spans than those who have a more upbeat optimistic attitude.
Lead researcher Frieder R. Lang said the findings, published online in the journal Psychology and Aging by the American Psychological Association, don't necessarily contradict theories that unrealistic optimism about the future can sometimes help people feel better when they are facing inevitable negative outcomes, such as terminal disease.
But he said the study results suggest people with worries about the future may take more active steps to adopt healthier lifestyles.
"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," said lead researcher Frieder R. Lang, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. "Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions."
For the study, Lang and colleagues examined information from annual surveys of some 40,000 German adults — aged 18 to 96 years — gathered from 1993 to 2003 for the national German Socio-Economic Panel. The researchers divided the data according to age groups: 18 to 39 years old, 40 to 64 years old, and 65 years old and above.
Participants were asked to rate how satisfied they were with their lives and how satisfied they expected to be in five years.
Five years after the first interview, the researchers found 43 percent of the oldest group had underestimated their future life satisfaction, 25 percent had predicted accurately, and 32 percent had overestimated. Based on these figures, the researchers found those who tended to overestimate future life satisfaction — essentially predicted a brighter future — were more likely to report disabilities and face an increased risk of death.
In fact, those who overestimated their future happiness were found to have a 9.5 per cent increase in disabilities and a 10 percent higher risk of death. They also found the youngest group had the sunniest outlook while the middle-aged adults made the most accurate predictions about their future happiness, but became more pessimistic over time.
"Unexpectedly, we also found that stable and good health and income were associated with expecting a greater decline compared with those in poor health or with low incomes," Lang said.
"These findings shed new light on how our perspectives can either help or hinder us in taking actions that can help improve our chances of a long healthy life."
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