I was reading Ginger Sister’s great post about looking at yourself (and life) with a great attitude and it made me think of an update that I saw yesterday about a meta-analysis of over 160 different studies (many decades-long) that examined the correlation between a person’s outlook and long-term outcomes that was recently published in the journal Applied Psychology.
It may or may not surprise you that there is a fairly significant correlation that suggests that happier people live healthier, longer lives. And this doesn’t just apply to people that are happy when their older. For example, one study that followed ~5,000 college students for more than four decades found that those that were most pessimistic as students tended to die younger than their more optimistic peers. An even longer-term study that followed 180 nuns from early adulthood to old age found that those who wrote positive autobiographies in their early 20s tended to outlive those who wrote more negative ones. The data is supportive of the outcome across cultural, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.
As someone that’s worked in the drug discovery business for a while, I’ve always preferred objective data (that is, things I can measure… e.g. glucose, testosterone, serotonin, etc.) over subjective analyses (“On a scale of 1-10, how do you feel” type questions), but it’s interesting to consider how our lifelong outlook might affect our lifelong outcome. Certainly, one of the most interesting things going on biology currently is the unraveling of the neurological and biochemical mechanisms that connect “subjective” conditions such as mood and anxiety to more “objective” ones like obesity and fertility.
Of course, the data raises the interesting question of whether how we feel about life – optimistic or pessimistic – is something that we can control, or is it dictated by the neurochemistry of our brains? Can we choose to be happy any more than we can choose to have blue eyes?
I’d like to think so, but maybe that’s just because I’m a glass-half-full sort of guy.