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Here’s another reason to get into the habit of looking on the bright side.
People who consider themselves optimists may be more than a third less likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke, according to a new study published in the JAMA Network Open medical journal.
Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of data from 230,000 men and women in the U.S., Europe, Israel and Australia over 14 years. And the subjects who described themselves as optimistic experienced 35% fewer major heart complications, such as stroke, heart attack and cardiac death, than those who didn’t. What’s more, these optimists were 14% less likely to have a premature death by any cause, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia and diabetes.
Professor Alan Rozanski, a corresponding author of the study and a cardiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, suggested that people with a more positive outlook may also be more inclined to live a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, eating a balanced diet and not smoking. “Optimism has long been promulgated as a positive attribute for living,” he wrote.
And it’s a good thing that optimists are so hopeful about the future — it appears they have a lot more of it.
People with greater optimism are more likely to achieve “exceptional longevity” and live to age 85 or older, according to a recent study from the Boston University School of Medicine.
Researchers surveyed 69,744 women and 1,429 men drawn from two longitudinal health studies to measure their levels of optimism, as well as their overall health and their lifestyle habits (such as diet, smoking and alcohol use.) And those with the most positive outlooks had 50% to 70% greater odds of reaching 85 years old, compared to the more negative groups. The biggest optimists also lived 11% to 15% longer. And these findings were consistent after accounting for demographic factors such as age, education, chronic diseases and depression, as well as lifestyle habits like exercise, diet and alcohol use.
This study didn’t detail exactly how optimism boosts longevity, although previous research suggests that looking on the bright side makes people happier, healthier and wealthier, which factors into a long, fulfilling life.
A recent study in Behavioral Medicine, for example, found that optimists tend to sleep better; they were 74% less likely to have insomnia, and were also more likely to get a solid six to nine hours of shut-eye a night. And better sleep is linked to better overall health and a reduced risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease — which translates into a smaller chance of dying from heart disease or stroke. Being upbeat has also been linked to having a healthier heart, as many optimists eat better, exercise more and have strong social support networks.
What’s more, one 2015 study found that optimists earn more money than cynics (approximately $3,000 over nine years), while another report suggested that people who wear rose-tinted glasses are promoted more, in part because they work so well with others.
Optimists are also more likely than pessimists to make smart money moves, according to a survey released by Frost Bank earlier this year. Believe it or not, those looking on the bright side were more prepared for the worst, as 61% of optimists had started an emergency fund compared to less than half (43%) of pessimists. Optimists were also far more likely to save money for a major purchase, and they were more creative in finding ways to save money.
Related: Rich people approach problems like this — and it helps explain why they’re wealthy
Unfortunately, optimism among Americans 35 and younger dropped below that of their parents’ generation for the first time last year — largely due to economic pressures like sky-high student loan and credit card debt.
Are you also struggling to be positive? Read this piece to see some tips to becoming an optimist, such as practicing gratitude and repeating empowering affirmations.
This article was previously published in August 2019, and has been updated with the new JAMA Network Open study.