Pessimism linked to longer, healthier lives

By Siski Green, Tuesday 5 March 2013

Good news for pessimists – but don’t get too cheerful, it seems a glass-half empty attitude may help you live longer
Negative thinkingA pessimistic person may end up pleasantly surprised

A positive outlook has been hailed as one of the most important things for maintaining health, but new research published by the American Psychological Association has found that when older people have lower expectations for their futures they tend to live longer and healthier lives than those who look to the future with rosy-coloured glasses.

Researchers from the University of Erlangen-Nuremburg, Germany, looked at data from a period of ten years from around 40,000 people aged between 18 and 90. They split the results up into different age categories and then assessed interviews that had been done with all the participants about their overall satisfaction with their lives and their predictions of happiness for the future. These interviews were repeated regularly, so the researchers were able to compare participants’ predictions with their actual life satisfaction over time.

Five years after the first interviews were undertaken, 43% of study participants aged 65 years and older had underestimated their future life satisfaction; 25% had estimated correctly; and 32% had overestimated.

When the researchers compared these groups with how much their life satisfaction and improved or decreased over the five-year period, they found that overestimating future life satisfaction was linked to a 9.5% increase in reports of disabilities and a 10% increase risk of death.

The study authors point out that unrealistic optimism can also sometimes help – if a person is facing an inevitable negative outcome, it can improve general feelings of life satisfaction. But, they say, whether a person gains from being negative, accurate or pessimistic may be dependent on their age and available resources.

A young person, for example, who has a very negative outlook on life may not strive to achieve his or her goals and as they have fewer resources life satisfaction is likely to be far lower; an older person who has a more pessimistic outlook towards the future may be pleasantly surprised to find their health hasn’t deteriorated so dramatically or that they are still able to enjoy hobbies they thought they might have to give up.

Subscribe to our fortnightly health newsletter for more fascinating health news and features.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.


  • Lonely man on bench

    Loneliness affects health in unexpected ways

    Not having many friends, or people you can talk to or rely on, has already been linked to depression for obvious reasons, but now new research indicates that it even has an effect on your body's inflammatory response to illness.

    Read on

  • Miss you

    Fight loneliness and improve your health

    By taking some simple steps towards tackling feelings of isolation we can improve our physical as well as our mental health.

    Read on

  • Painting

    How to keep your brain young

    You can’t do much about the years rolling by, but you needn’t be ‘elderly’ in your mind: all you need is a different outlook. Tim Drake and Chris Middleton distil the secrets of staying young at heart from their bestselling book

    Read on

  • Health Club

    Health Club

    Free membership and free online assessment to see how healthy you could be.


  • HCP thumbnail

    Health Cash Plan

    You can claim up to 75% of your common everyday healthcare expenses including dental and optical treatments.


  • Saga Health Insurance

    Health insurance

    A comprehensive range of competitively priced HealthPlans.



Type your comment here

 characters remaining.

Saga Magazine

For more fascinating stories and insightful articles, why not try Saga Magazine for just £1 for 3 issues.

Saga Magazine e-newsletter

Sign up to our free newsletter today

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter for all the latest recipes, gardening tips, prize draws, interviews and more delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Saga Magazine app

You can now read your Saga Magazine on a huge range of mobile devices - from the Kindle Fire to an iPhone or iPad.

English Heritage offer

Get £10 off English Heritage membership

Get out and about this spring with £10 off English Heritage membership. Enter code SG15W at checkout.