Happiness and optimism might lead to better health, resulting in longer life expectancy, Israeli scientists said in a new research.
Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reached the conclusion following a longitudinal study they began back in the 1990s.
Professor Jochanan Stessman, director of the university's Institute on Aging headed the "Jerusalem Longitudinal Study" along with Prof. Jeremy Jacobs and Dr. Yoram Maaravi.
The study followed 1,200 elderly Jerusalemites who were born in 1920 or 1921 and analyzed their health, ability to function, economic wellbeing, social skills, anxiety level, integrity and optimism.
The level of optimism was measured with the help of a questionnaire about participants’ positive experiences and expectations for the future.
“Our findings indicate that optimism has an impact on survival, whereas other studies have shown that it improves health-related functions, such as our immune systems, reducing risk factors for high blood pressure and cardiac issues, and maybe even cancer,” said Maaravi.
In addition to the one-on-one interviews, the researchers looked at participants’ medical and records, and factored in parameters such as gender, economic, marital and parental status, education levels, physical and social activity.
Once all the data had been obtained, the team determined that there was a correlation between a positive outlook and a longer life, and found clear evidence that elderly participants aged 85-90 with a high optimism score had a 20% higher life expectancy rate than those who were less optimistic.
This number jumped to 25% among those in the 90+ age group. The study also found that men, in general, were more optimistic than women.
“Optimism doesn’t have to be viewed as a trait we’re born with, but one that we can develop,” said Maaravi. “It’s important to think of ways to increase optimism because it’s more clear than ever that it can help people at all stages of their lives.”