Dr. Rozanski added, “There’s also a biological effect. Pessimists bathe their bodies in damaging stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine all day long. Pessimism increases inflammation in the body and fosters metabolic abnormalities like diabetes. Pessimism is also on the way to depression, which the American Heart Association considers a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”
Another researcher, Julia K. Boehm, a psychologist at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., said: “Optimism promotes problem-solving. It helps people deal with challenges and obstacles in more effective ways. Optimists tend to pursue strategies that make a rosy future a reality. Their hearts are not constantly pounding.”
In contrast, she said, “Pessimists tend not to be open to the possibility of favorable outcomes, and the fight-or-flight response they experience amps up bodily systems that over a long period of time wear the body down.”
Dr. Boehm and colleagues examined the association of optimism with three health behaviors — physical activity, diet and cigarette smoking — and found that more optimistic individuals were more likely to engage in healthier behaviors. Their findings were published in 2018 in Circulation Research.
Lewina O. Lee, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues analyzed several decades of data from women in the Nurses’ Health Study and men in the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study.
They found that, on average, those with higher levels of optimism, as measured by an assessment tool called the Life Orientation Test, lived longer. Among the most optimistic study participants, the women had a 50 percent greater chance and the men a 70 percent greater chance of surviving to age 85.
In an interview, Dr. Lee said that optimists are better able than pessimists to reframe challenging circumstances and react to them in less stressful ways. They’re also more likely to embrace a can-do attitude toward life and persist in trying to overcome obstacles rather than think there’s nothing they can do about a bad situation, she said.