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Pessimists Live Longer Than Optimists

New research suggests that the downers wind up outlasting the uppers

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Image: Darren W

Worrying takes years off your life, right? Well, maybe not. Pessimists rejoice: happy-go-lucky, care-free peers of yours probably won’t live as long as you. New research suggests that the downers wind up outlasting the uppers.

The American Psychological Association summarizes the research published in the journal Psychology and Aging, saying:

Older people who have low expectations for a satisfying future may be more likely to live longer, healthier lives than those who see brighter days ahead, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“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. “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.”

Those who see death and sickness in the future have a much more accurate picture of what lies in their path. Those who see only rainbows and sunshine ahead are fooling themselves and are less likely to live healthy, cautious lives. Of course, sometimes thinking optimistically is a good thing.

For those who are already facing terminal illness or long term health problems, being optimistic can certainly help. But for the rest of us, too much sunshine might shorten our lives. Those who live by the YOLO mantra probably die by it too. Which leaves the rest of us skeptical curmudgeons around for much longer.

Image: Ankher

More from Smithsonian.com:

Steve Jobs: Futurist, Optimist
The (Scientific) Pursuit of Happiness

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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