Pessimistic Outlook? You Might Live Longer

Optimistic older adults face a greater risk of disabilities and death, according to research from the American Psychological Association.

Older people with low expectations for a satisfying future may be more likely to live longer, the research found. Apparently flying in the face of conventional thinking about positive attitudes and health in later years, “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 author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, in Germany.


The study, published online in the journal Psychology and Aging, examined data in an annual survey of private households comprising some 40,000 adults ages 18 to 96. Respondents were asked to rate how satisfied they were with their lives and how satisfied they thought they would be in five years.


Researchers determined age differences in estimated life satisfaction; accuracy in predicting life satisfaction; age, gender and income differences in the accuracy of predicting life satisfaction; and rates of disability and death.


Five years after the first interview, 43% of the oldest group had underestimated their future life satisfaction, 25% had predicted accurately and 32% had overestimated, according to the study. Each increase in overestimating future life satisfaction was related to a 9.5% increase in reporting disabilities and a 10% increased risk of death, the analysis revealed.


Because a darker outlook on the future is often more realistic, older adults’ predictions of their future satisfaction may be more accurate, according to the study. In contrast, the youngest group had the sunniest outlook while the middle-aged adults made the most accurate predictions, but became more pessimistic over time.