Optimists live longer by avoiding stress

Lots and lots
of optimists
live lots longer
than lots and lots
of pessimists.
Those are the stats.
Those are the facts.
But why?
By minimising 

We knew the first bit anyway. Numerous vast, decades-long research studies have provided ample evidence of this (at first sight bizarre) fact: an optimistic state of mind tends to add not just months but years to your life. And not years of frailty and misery but healthy years.

But why?

What’s the magic ingredient of optimism?

Is it this—the confidence to reach out to people? An active social life is key to a long happy life, after all.

Cartoon. Stick figure thinks, Shall I call my friend? Optimist is chatting happily on her phone. Pessimist thinks, No. She's always too busy.
Optimists assume that friends want to talk to them. Pessimists don’t.

Or this? We know that exercise is crucial for a long, healthy life. And optimism about old age would be a very good reason for exercising. And for numerous other positive lifestyle habits—you know what they are.

Cartoon. Stick figure thinks: Shall I exercise today? optimist holding handweights thinks: Yes it's worth it. Pessimist thinks No. It's too late to start now.
Exercise promotes optimism and optimism encourages exercise

One actual cause (as opposed to correlation): stress

An interesting new research result suggests that optimists don’t necessarily recover from stressful events any faster than others. Rather they actually don’t experience as much stress as others. That means the optimist’s body and brain have an easier life and probably a longer one, right?

  • Maybe optimists avoid stressful situations
  • Maybe they are easy to get along with, which creates less conflict
  • Maybe they just don’t perceive so many things as stressful
  • Maybe they notice stress and minimise it
  • Maybe optimists build up skills for managing stress, learning from experience.
Cartoon: why optimists live longer. Stick figure thinks: F*ck lost my phone! Happy woman thinks "I've got three options." Pessimist is stressed and thinks: "DISASTER! DOOM!"
The optimist has a calmer way of responding to minor stresses

To understand these new findings, read

It was a small study of men only so no doubt you’ll have questions like, “But what about—?”

I’m interested in the practical application of this knowledge, because it is possible to lower our stress levels and obviously it’s worth doing. Apart from the long-term health and longevity benefits, life with less stress becomes more easy, surely, and even more fun?

Or don’t you like fun? (That’s a serious question. Some people choose to be stressed. They would rather be cross than solve the problem. I know, I used to live with one. And that’s how it goes: people like what they like and you can’t make them like what you like.)

One teeny tiny way to start reducing stress

Here’s a practical application of these findings.

  1. Think of one teeny tiny little thing that always annoys you, day after day.
  2. Decide to react in a different way. Instead of swearing or groaning or kicking the cat, you could raise your eyebrows. Or say Whoopsie! Or take a deep breath. Or—dare I say it?—laugh. Up to you!
  3. Or (sometimes) you can find a way to stop that thing ever happening again.

“Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff.” Hang on, that’s wrong. Let’s ask Ursula for her advice about optimism, stress, longevity and health.

Cat lolls on a carpet. Text says: Life's too short because you sweat the small stuff.
Minimise stress to boost optimism, longevity and health
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23 thoughts on “Optimists live longer by avoiding stress

  1. Anonymous says:

    You’ve got the pipeline to the truth! It’s the “is the glass half full or half empty” kind of thing. I try and be optimistic and just drink everything in the glass so that there is no debate!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      And you popped the cork off my giggles.

  2. judithhb says:

    Oh, Rachel. I am the eternal optimist. My family will tell you that Pollyanna is alive and well and living in Wellington New Zealand. Perhaps that’s why at 84 I am doing most of what I’ve always done. Perhaps not as fast nor as far as before, but still doing.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That makes sense to me.

  3. alison41 says:

    Oh well: if it has an Ursula Endorsement, then obviously it is a 5 Gold Star Quality Technique. Which I shall instantly follow. BTW: the drawings aren’t bad either – please visualise the ‘wink’ emoticon. I can’t work out how to insert one, and life is too short.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Don’t mind me. On the other hand, Ursula is unrealistically positive about her own merits and pretty cynical about everyone else. Which makes her an inspiring role model and influencer. Yes?

  4. I like the way optimists’ smiles are contagious.:-)

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So do I. And it’s even more fun delivering the smiles to strangers.

  5. Reading this is a great way to start my day and week. There! I’m smiling at the phone and sending you a warm hug.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Love it! That feels terrific.

  6. LA says:

    It’s funny…I have a post in the distant pipeline about the difference between positive people, negative people and pragmatists…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Aha. Did you hear about the pragmatic optimists? Best of kind.

      1. LA says:


  7. henhouselady says:

    Thank you for this helpful information.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      My pleasure. We usually don’t know when a comment is helpful so I appreciate this.

  8. pamela978 says:

    it’s so good to have your words back in my life, Rachel. I try to express positivity in my Sunday blog…interesting that the virus of hate and misunderstanding seems to be striking people on the other side of the globe, too…a branching development in homo sapiens? Or too much communication without a sufficient filter of critical thinking??

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      The latter, I think, but the consequences are here for a while. But Pamela, I don’t know your Sunday blog. Only your long neglected Graphic Grannie. Where is it?

  9. Ursula has it absolutely bloomin’ right bang on the button. I think I may have an extra nap to celebrate her brilliant philosophy!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Works for her!

  10. I guess this means women are generally more optimistic than men?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Not sure that follows. But old people do have an advantage.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I think that old people are more optimistic in general. I read the book(The Mature Mind) recommended by the woman who is 100(blogs as Engaging With Aging) and loved it. It made that point..

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Right! It follows.

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