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Friday, 11 February, 2000, 15:12 GMT
Survival of the happiest?
Do you believe your frame of mind affects your longevity? Researchers in the USA have found that optimistic people live about 19% longer than pessimists.
The report says optimists may be less likely to develop depression, and might be more positive in seeking medical help and taking care of themselves.
It's not all bad news though. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, says pessimism is both identifiable early in life and can be changed.
Do you agree with the report? Are you a healthy pessimist, or do you believe that positive thinking can extend your life? Send us your thoughts.
A "realistic" view on life with a reasonable portion of optimism seems to be the best mix for maintaining reasonable health. Positive Mental Attitude usually means you'll keep going longer even when the going gets tougher - whatever the problem.
Phil W, UK
No doubt, optimism saves the world. It is essential for the survival of the mankind.
Dr. ASM Iqbal, Singapore
I would say an optimistic outlook would definitely contribute somewhat to a longer life. Many illnesses, I believe, can be brought on by a psychological lowering of the immune system; if one expects to get ill, one probably will. With regards to Tom from Australia's comment about there being so many old moaners, perhaps they were optimistic when they were younger and now that they are old they are wishing they were dead.
Trevor Blayney, N. Ireland
There are many cases appearing in the news where people with everything to live for have died before their time. So much for research!
Paul Jonas, United Kingdom
Surely another interpretation of the study is that people who have illnesses/life events that shorten life are more likely to become pessimistic & that people who don't are more likely to be optimistic?
Alan Rowell, UK
When economy light-bulbs go down, social frustration looms large and what is left at my disposal - "an arsenal of hope". Let HOPE be our driving force.
Tajudeen Isiaka, Nigeria
Yeah! I'll buy the argument that the optimists live longer. One small query though, where do all these miserable old sods with one foot in the grave fit in this research? They are everywhere!
All "studies" are bogus if taken on their own without conflicting arguments. The answer to longevity is, probably, adaptability. Hence, there is a middle ground: Realism. In a given situation, a pessimist will seek the negative angle, an optimist will seek the positive angle, but a realist will angle in between and become either.
Value healthy relationships above all other things, including the one you have with yourself, happiness and long life will invariably follow.
Colin B, UK
This study does not pretend to say that optimism is THE main factor in longevity, only that it plays a role. This makes perfect sense to those of us who are aware of the interactions between the brain, the endocrine (hormone) system, and the immune system. It's anything but "rubbish".
David B. Sprouse, USA
A pessimist is called such only by others who are more delusionally gleeful than the so called pessimist. I say take a "optimist" and a "pessimist" and put them both in a state of nature; I wager the pessimist would be more organised, more prepared for a rainy day, than the don't worry - be happy optimist! And in a state of nature, he who is better prepared, survives longer!
Steve Kenney, USA
Being optimistic or pessimistic is really how one perceives the world to be. It's not how the world really is. So why not choose to be optimistic instead? Let's not even talk about the hormonal responses in the body to happiness yet.
I believe that it is extremely important to be happy and optimistic. Yes, we will have joyous moments, but there are going to be times of pain. I think by addressing that pain and looking at it from an optimistic viewpoint, allows for other windows to be opened. In turn, new solutions to pending issues are found and tackled in another light. You only live once, there is no point in being bitter. Last point, no one ever said that being happy would be an easy task, it takes a lot of courage! At the end of the day however its worth it.
Roshnee Rajasingam, Malaysia
Time is variable. Optimists let themselves enjoy life and for them time flies. Pessimists usually moan about everything (and this is the most optimistic way of saying this) and so time seems endless! The choice is yours.
Melina Efstathiou, Cyprus
My grandmother, who is 91, even giggles when she tells you the time. I've never known a more optimistic person, and she is remarkably healthy (still minds children and tends her own garden). My father, by contrast, is a cynic and worrier who, at 54, has suffered two heart attacks. Forget these huge studies; it seems pretty straightforward to me.
What a load of rubbish! I am a very pessimistic person but at the same time I enjoy life. I think I have been very successful in life and feel that my pessimism spurred me on. The belief that it was 'me against the world' made me a more determined person in the game of life.
Shamim Miah, UK
Happiness can prolong your life, it helps you get along the problems easier, it stop you from depression and the "depression dive" which can make you feel more uncomfortable with you everyday. To stay happy is not easy but it's worth it, you make people happy if you are happy.
Rodrigo Lozano-Ros, Mexico
A pessimist is an optimist in full possession of the facts.
Wendy Eaping, USA
My lovely sister died on Sunday after 7 years LIVING with disseminated breast cancer - five years ago it went to her liver and against all odds she lived on. And her fight at the end was something I will never forget. Her will to survive was amazing and whilst positive thinking occasionally waned, we would manage to recreate it.
An unwanted prognosis two weeks ago sent her into a state of fear, and a rapid decline from which I could not turn her round. The need to know, should be very, very carefully handled.
Does it really matter who lives longer. It's the quality of life that matters. Someone looking for opportunities in life will have a fuller life than some looking for reasons not to have a life. Optimists generally love life and try and make the most of it. Get a life sad people! I know whose company I'd rather be in.
I am living with HIV+ and I was taking it as the end of my life, and my CD4 count was dropping very fast, for several reasons. But suddenly I realised if I am HIV+ why not face it? There's nothing wrong yet so I started living again as a normal healthy person and believe me or not, my CD4 count has not only stopped there but going up again, (maybe for several other reasons) but I take it as because of my Positive thinking.
This I think is very true. The secret to a long and happy life is happiness and being at peace with yourself. I think it also depends on your frame of mind, you must be positive and have an open mind to everything. All these factors I think contribute to your life expectancy.
Optimists live longer because they haven't realised the futility of carrying on. Pessimists retire from life early with a lot less pain.
Martin Bentley, UK
I disagree. It's pessimists that live longer. It feels that way, anyway...
The things that people do to one another disturb me, and keep me awake at night. And yet, I can't help thinking that one day we'll learn the value of human life. I'm proud to call myself an optimist.
Kulvinder Singh Chadha, England
I thought that it was a common sense. Some say that the world is often cruel to people. Of course, those who live in poor circumstances suffer from many problems. However, it is up to the person how to accept reality in front of him/her.
The reality will never change for us no matter what we complain. I choose understanding or acceptance of reality rather than fight against it. But I don't mean this as a surrender. I make myself happy with thinking happily and optimistically.
Ryoji Yanawake, Japan/the United States
It seems like a logical progression that happy people should live longer. After all it has long been proven that there is a link between the immune system/stress and how we react to major life events. (Those of us who have a positive outlook and feel that we have some control over our lives, do tend to be happier and not get sick as often.) Yes, I am one of those, on the whole "annoying" happy optimistic people. Now let us see if I get to live for a long time!
Pat van der Veer, Canada (but British)
Maybe it is not so much being an optimist rather than a pessimist, but being able to handle stressful situations better. I'd guess that pessimists may typically spend more time lying awake worrying which can't be good for their health. I don't know. Is there really a blood test or something to measure your level of optimism?
Life isn't about being optimistic or pessimistic. One must know when to pessimistic and when to be optimistic. We cannot have one or the other. This study doesn't prove anything. There are people who are able to live on hate alone. Optimism is merely people's way of feeling better about themselves.
This study is obviously flawed, MTV generation scientists coming up with pseudo-scientific, pop experiments, just to get in the press. What is the world coming to? Rubbish in what used to be respected journals, drivel on the television. I mean, we're losing it, what's the point in carrying on? Arghh . . . . help me . . . . someone call an ambulance . . . . p l e a s e . . . . k i s s m e H a r d y
Finn Nesbitt, UK
Optimists keep on working to make their lives better and keep fighting the diseases while the pessimists give up.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA
I'd like to see the statistics behind this report; health and happiness are linked in many ways that can bias studies such as this. I'd also like to point out that it is very upsetting for people who have lost loved ones to a terminal disease to hear ill-educated people talk of positive feelings as if they are some sort of cure-all.
Laurence Wilson, UK
I dare say that scientists could prove that people wearing black shoes live longer than people wearing brown shoes if they nobbled their statistical sample enough. Why do grants go to these people and not to AIDS and cancer researchers?
Ed Bayley, USA (English)
I am 21, and still I've never had a girlfriend. I hope this doesn't mean I will die a virgin!
I'm an advocate of optimism, however repeated failures (whatever be the reason) after being optimistic about the result might eventually turn a person into a pessimist...hence exhibiting realism at times might keep alive a person's optimism.
Goutam Chadalavada, USA
Perhaps, in the long term, optimists live longer, but in the short term, do they die a million deaths, emotionally in the effort to stay optimistic?
Generally a person will be pessimist when things are not going in the way he wants. And I think this is good sometimes . Because during this time you sit and analyse what went wrong. This will be a good learning excerise.
Prasad Kamath, USA
A positive attitude is the tonic for long life. Shakespeare is a tonic, Mozart is a tonic, Beethoven is a tonic and literature is a tonic. Life is for the celebration of the arts and the joy of learning. Stay positive!
Catharine Hannover, Reno, Nevada/USA
I don't know whether or not optimists live longer, one study isn't enough to convince me of that. What I do know is that pessimists often confuse cynicism with intellect or insight. The only thing worse than a pessimist is a pessimist who thinks cynicism makes him or her a clever person. A more tedious creature I cannot imagine.
Rath Andor, USA
Want to know all about the power of optimism - go and read Napolean Hill's classic book "Think And Grow Rich." It's your choice to do what you want to be happy or sad. Of course optimists live longer - pessimism creates negativity which in turn creates ill health - ask any miserable old so and so!
Anthony Turner, UK
Pessimists always see the bad side of everything, nothing good to say about anyone, always complaining and trying to make everyone around them join in with their self opinionated misery. Well life is what you make of it. You only get one go round so enjoy it. If you want to spend your whole life complaining then please go and do it on your planet - I'm having too much fun to listen.
Peter Birkett, UK
Optimism, is not about looking at things through rose tinted spectacles. It's about not letting those things that conspire against us to stop us getting up and trying again. The difference between pessimists and optimists is the length of time they stay down. Those that stay down, are bound to give up the ghost sooner!
Ben Drury, England
I know someone who drinks, smokes, takes drugs, drives like a lunatic, burns the candle at both ends and has a number of medical conditions resulting from this lifestyle. Yet he is always incredible optimistic about the future and refuses to feel down. How long do you think he is going to live?
John Green, UK
Winston Churchill lived to a ripe old age and yet suffered depression all his life. Where does that leave this research now then?
Brian Ollock, UK
What a stupid subject for research. The only people who can be optimistic about the future are the scientists who regularly persuade people to give them large sums of money for such rubbish!
Simon Martass, USA
My life has been one long struggle full of pain and despair, and I'm optimistic that it is going to stay that way. Where does this leave me in the longevity stakes?
Bill Odger, UK
I am relatively optimistic that my general pessimism will not shorten my life. It's often helpful not to be too optimistic about some things and instead face reality. Optimism can lead to disappointment, whereas pessimism can often lead to a pleasant surprise.
John Southan, Brit in the Netherlands
Optimism is pessimism rightly considered; pessimism is optimism wrongly considered. (with apologies to GKC?)
I think this is rubbish. How big was the study? Statistics are easily manipulated into showing the result one prefers. I spent many years working with very old people; many of them had had lives full of suffering (2 world wars, the Depression, etc).They had often been extremely pessimistic about life in general and some of them still were. How does the study explain this?
Tony Orchard, UK
It has long been known in the medical profession that stress and/or general unhappiness has a major effect on the immune system causing it to work inefficiently. This leaves people at risk of disease so it is not surprising that happier people live longer. So cheer up everyone and we may all be in line for that telegram from the Queen!
Dr Sue Miles, UK
Pardon my ignorance, but are optimists people who think they will not get cancer if they smoke, not damage their livers if they drink a skinfull several nights a week, be just as safe driving above the speed limit as keeping to it, not get addicted if they try illegal drugs...?
Maybe neurotic pessimists do die younger and irresponsible optimists survive. Research grant for a study, anyone?
Clive P Mitchell, UK
I am a firm believer in positive thinking. After years of being miserable and constantly feeling let down, I decided to do something about it. I started to think positively about any given situation. It was hard work at first as it feels unnatural, but after a while it became second nature.
At the beginning of 1999 I decided that only good things were going to happen to me. Do you know what? They have! Now, whatever situation I'm in, I'll always look for the positive and I always expect the best things to happen to me. I read once that you get what you expect and it's absolutely true! Who knows whether positive thinking makes you live longer? However long I live, I know I'll be happy!
Sue Hanson, England
Do optimists live longer? I'll tell you when I'm 150
Kevin Parker, UK
I am optimistic about the fact that bad things seem to happen to good people regardless of what they do.
An optimist is in for a grinding series of disappoints in life as one thing after another goes wrong. A healthy sense of pessimism and a cynical outlook gives a more realistic slant on life. Plus, a pessimist can only ever get a NICE surprise.
James Desborough, UK
I quite agree - depression can lead to failure to take necessary care of your own health. Some refuse to visit their GP at all and some can't be bothered. Even if they do, the GP is likely to put almost any symptom down to the depression. Depressives are less likely to eat properly or exercise regularly. It's a vicious circle - depression leads to poor health which leads back to depression through feeling unwell.
However, perfectly happy and optimistic people can still fail to take proper care of themselves, so unless being happy to optimistic can in itself give a healing boost, they probably still won't outlive their depressive pals by 19%. Perhaps this research needs greater depth as to why this difference occurs (although I hope we're not paying for it!)
I totally agree that if pessimism is identified - at any stage in your life - it can be changed. I have suffered from depression since I was a teenager; then in my mid-thirties I attended a positive thinking seminar and it changed the way I thought about myself and how I dealt with my depression.
When I have my "black days" I know they are not going to last so I have to be positive, push on with work and family and then I come to the end. In the intervening years my "dark days" have reduced from weeks at a time to a day here or there. Positive thinking, about all aspects of our lives, should be discussed and taught in school.
Kathleen Evans, England
Of course optimists will live longer - they want to live more than pessimists, and determination always has a part to play in the longevity equation. However, everybody is born an optimist (that's why babies want to learn and to live), society then turns many into pessimists, through high taxes, restrictive rules, and lack of opportunities.
Rameen John Ghobadian, United Kingdom
I like to think I'm a positive person, and try to convince myself of that fact. I truly believe the state of your mind affects the state of your body. I find giving the brain a mental workout with quizzes etc is just as important as the physical body having exercise
Mark Stevens, UK
How long do realists live?
Tristan O'Dwyer, England
Bah humbug. PROVE IT I SAY!!!...Oooh, I don't feel very well all of a sudden. Think I'll have a lie down.
Jean-Marc Watson, UK
It isn't really hugely surprising, though, is it? Optimistic people are less likely to develop depression than pessimistic ones? Thank goodness a really expensive bit of research has found that out because I'd never have figured it out myself! I find it amazing that people can struggle to get funding for scientific research yet somehow tosh like this manages to get the money.... Mad!
Dr R. A. Coxall, Scotland
Happy people are simply deluded and live in a world which simply does not exist. Face it the world is miserable place, full of suffering and despair. Man's inhumanity to his fellow man is enough to make one want to give up.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
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