May 16, 2018

Be happy and you'll live longer, study finds

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

Coronavirus updates: Market ends worst week since financial crisis

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The stock market ended its worst week since the financial crisis, prompting the Fed to release a statement. Meanwhile, the WHO warned that countries are losing their chance to contain the novel coronavirus and raised its global risk assessment to "very high" Friday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,860 people and infected more than 84,000 others in over 60 countries and territories outside the epicenter in mainland China. The number of new cases reported outside China now exceed those inside the country.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health

California coronavirus: Latest case has no recent history of international travel

Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A new case of the novel coronavirus in California was announced on Friday after Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that 33 people had tested positive for the virus, noting the risk to the public remains low.

What's new: An adult woman with chronic health conditions in Santa Clara County who "did not recently travel overseas" or come into contact with anyone known to be ill was confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus on Friday by CDC and California Department of Public Health officials.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 hours ago - Health

Big video game conference delayed amid coronavirus concerns

Photo: GDC

Next month's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco became the latest tech event to be cancelled or postponed amid growing concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The big picture: A growing number of events are being scrapped, including Mobile World Congress and Facebook's F8 developer conference. Some, like the giant SXSW event in Austin, insist they are moving forward.