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Pessimistic Outlook May Help You Live Longer, Healthier Life

Update Date: Feb 27, 2013 11:14 AM EST

It sounds like nature's idea of a cruel joke. Scientists found that optimism about life outcomes is associated with disability and death. On the other end,  adults who are pessimistic are more likely to have a long and healthy life.

"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," study lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, said in a statement. "Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions."

The researchers looked at data from the German Socio-Economic Panel. The survey is an annual examination of about 40,000 people between the ages of 18 and 96 years old. The researchers looked exclusively at the ten-year period of data collected between 1993 and 2003. The psychologists divided each of the people in the study into three different age groups: 18 to 39 years old, 40 to 64 years old and 65 years and above. Each of the people were asked how happy they were with their lives now, and how happy they thought that they would be in five years. Researchers measured their levels of satisfaction from a scale of 0 to 10.

After the first interview, researchers found that 43 percent of the older adults had underestimated how satisfied with their life they would be in the future, and 25 percent had been on target. However, for the 32 percent of people who had overestimated their satisfaction in life, each overestimation increase correlated with a 9.5 percent increase in disabilities and a 10 percent increased risk in death.

Unsurprisingly, younger adults had the most optimistic view of life. Middle-aged adults were the most accurate, but they became more pessimistic with age. The study would seem to lend the appearance that darker views of life tend to also be more realistic. Researchers note that sickness and other health problems may have colored health outcomes.

Researchers note that unrealistic optimism is still helpful in certain circumstances: namely, in the face of a terminal disease.

The study was published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

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