According to a brief article in the New York Times, research has shown that pessimists are, ironically, more likely to die earlier than optimists.
The article discusses some research on dispositional optimism and pessimism and how it relates to health and risk for mortality.
The study, led by Dr. Erik J. Giltay of the Psychiatric Center GGZ Delfland and published in The Archives of General Psychiatry, followed 941 Dutch subjects, ages 65 to 85, from 1991 to 2001. Subjects were ranked in quartiles as pessimistic or optimistic on the basis of their reactions to statements like, “I still have positive expectations concerning my future” and, “I often feel that life is full of promises.”
Dr. Giltay and his colleagues found that subjects with the highest level of optimism were 45 percent less likely than those with the highest level of pessimism to die of all causes during the study. For those in the quartile with the highest optimism score, the death rate was 30.4 percent; those in the most pessimistic quartile had a death rate of 56.5 percent. There were 397 deaths in the study, and prevention of cardiovascular mortality accounted for nearly half of the protective effects of optimism.
In fact, Giltay has published a few studies which have shown similar findings.
However, one of the difficulties with these sorts of studies is determining causality.
Does being pessimistic make you more likely to have poor health, or does having poor health make you more likely to be pessimistic, or might it be a combination of both, perhaps working as a self-reinforcing cycle?
These sort of self-sustaining negative cycles are exactly the sort of things that clinical psychologists tend to target when they are treating patients, often with substantial benefits for physical and mental health.
Link to NYT article ‘Yet Another Worry for Those Who Believe the Glass Is Half-Empty’.