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Do pessimists live longer?

A study from the American Psychological Association reveals pessimists outlive optimists.

Shawn Achor

Earlier this year, research published by the American Psychological Association showed that pessimists— because of their penchant for seeing life through a grim lens—take steps to improve their health, and thus tend to live longer than optimists.

In addition, senior citizens who overestimated how happy they would be in five years were found to have a 9.5 percent increase in disabilities and a 10 percent greater risk of death. It makes common sense: The squirrel most worried about winter will save the most acorns and be glad he did.

But that squirrel is not a pessimist; it’s actually an optimist! The study incorrectly defines “optimist.” Seeing a problem (like your cholesterol level) does not make you a pessimist, but rather a realist. Optimism and pessimism come into play after you see the problem.

Irrational optimists think nothing bad will happen to them or their families, so they don’t take any positive steps to change. True pessimists believe their behavior doesn’t matter, so they don’t take positive steps to change. A rational optimist is someone who starts with a realistic assessment of the present while maintaining a belief that his behavior matters.

So what aspect of your life has you worried? Channel your inner optimist by thinking of three proactive actions you can take to make things better. Become a rational optimist and live longer.

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