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Dr. Robert J. Smith in Memphis, 2005. Photo: Carlo Allegri/Getty

Studies have long linked optimism and the attainment of life goals, but a new paper says hopeful people also live longer.

Quick take: The paper, co-authored by Brookings' Kelsey O'Connor and Carol Graham, tracked heads of household starting in 1968. In 2015, 74.8% of the pessimistic people were dead, compared with 68.9% of those who were optimistic.

  • In addition, in 2015 optimists had a 52% probability of surviving another year, while pessimists were at 48%.
  • Women heads of households were the happiest over the period.

How they defined optimistic: The paper describes optimism or hopefulness as "a positive belief that good rather than bad things will happen, as well as the ability to plan for and work toward goals, the latter requiring a certain level of agency."

It stands to reason that attitude is important in outcome. But O'Connor and Graham found a virtuous circle leading to optimism and, as a result, longer life:

  • "The way to understand our results is optimistic people live longer in part because they are better educated, earn greater incomes, and are free from mental or physical work limitations," they wrote.
  • "Optimists [were] more likely to invest in their education, and then education leading to better outcomes along many different aspects of life."

By the numbers: The study, using data from the U.S. Panel Study on Income Dynamics, tracked 7,912 heads of households starting in the period 1968-1975. Their average initial age was 45.

  • It finds that "people with less than a high school degree show the greatest declines in optimism, which along with their long-run links to premature mortality and deaths of despair," calls for more study.
  • They reject the finding by some researchers that people are set early as either an optimist or a pessimist. "Education can influence optimism and optimism can influence education," they said.

What was surprising: I asked Graham what was the most surprising thing she found. She replied that it was "the juxtaposition of very high levels of optimism among poor minorities, and African Americans in particular, against despair and lack of hope among poor whites." She said:

While that preceded our knowledge of the deaths of despair crisis (deaths which are concentrated among less than college educated whites), we have since found that our metrics of hope and optimism on the one hand and stress and anger on the other match robustly with patterns in deaths of despair at the level of individual, race, and place.

Go deeper

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker will not seek re-election in 2022

Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) speaking during a press conference in November 2021. Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), a moderate who typically ranks as one of the nation's most popular governors, said Wednesday that he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito (R) will not seek third terms in 2022.

Why it matters: The decision leaves the gubernatorial race wide open and will likely affect multiple down-ballot races next year. Baker was expected to be the front-runner had he joined the race.

3 hours ago - Health

CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers

Travelers with their luggage arrive at a COVID-19 testing location at the airport in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2021. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday night that it is working to impose stricter testing requirements for international travelers due to the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The big picture: The new rules would require all international travelers, regardless of vaccination status, to show a negative test taken a day before their flight to the U.S. Currently, the CDC says fully vaccinated travelers are allowed to show a test taken no more than three days before their departure, AP reports.

Republicans threaten to shut down government over vaccine mandates

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Capitol in November 2020. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate are planning to force a government shutdown Friday to deny funding needed to enforce the Biden administration's vaccine mandates on the private sector, according to Politico.

Why it matters: Congress has until the end of the week to pass a stopgap measure to extend funding into 2022, though objection from a small group of Republicans could shut down the government.