Pessimists outlive optimists -- not that they believe that

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2013 - 3:24 PM

If ever a piece of research was tailor-made for Minnesotans, this might be the one.

Over 10 years, researchers asked 40,000 people how satisfied they were with their lives, and how they thought the next five years would go. When they revisited them to see whose predictions proved most accurate, the pessimists trumped the optimists. Even more: Those with low expectations were living longer than those who persisted in looking on the sunny side.

Minnesotans know how to keep their anticipation in check, so as to never be overly disappointed. Two words: Vikings football.

Some have distilled these findings to “pessimists live longer than optimists,” but it’s a little more complicated.

The research at a German university found that more than four in 10 (especially older people) underestimated how satisfied they’d feel in five years. The three in 10 (mostly younger people) who were more optimistic had, in the interim, seen a 10 percent rise in the risk of death and reported disabilities. (http://bit.ly/XEMPUv).

But why do pessimists live longer? The study, in the journal Psychology and Aging, said that a darker view of the future “may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.” Unswerving optimism sets you up for disappointment, with the accompanying anxiety.

Aaron Sackett, a psychologist at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, said while the study seems to conflict with research touting the benefits of expecting the best, it’s more a case of tamping down our society’s rather insatiable appetite for optimism.

“It’s hard to say that pessimism is good,” Sackett said. “And the lead author never said that people who expected bad things in their lives did better, only that people with lower expectations did.”

Being realistic is healthier, Sackett said, “because what we do as people is compare what we wanted to what we got, and that can make a big difference in the amount of stress we experience.”

So consider your expectations. The first Vikings game is Sept. 8.

 

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185

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