People with carefree attitudes live longer

Study: Pessimists Live Longer - Right?

When two meet: "Nice weather today," says one happily. “You call this heat beautiful? The best thing to do is to stay at home, ”says the other in a suffering voice. “Are you feeling bad?” Asks the first. “Not that,” so the answer, “but I want to grow old and practice whining!” Perhaps we should all. A socio-economic long-term study recently presented in the journal “Psychology and Aging” comes to the conclusion: pessimists live longer.

Older people who have a poorer assessment of their future are apparently healthier and have a longer life expectancy than optimists. This surprising finding is based on research by researchers from the Universities of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Zurich, Berlin (Humboldt University) and the German Institute for Economic Research. To this end, 10,000 men and women were interviewed and observed over a period of ten years. The researchers now found that many lost their optimism with increasing age: Of those over 65 years of age, 43 percent had negative expectations, 32 percent too high expectations of the future. Only 25 percent assessed their situation realistically. During the observed period of time, unwavering optimists had a ten percent higher risk of death than ill-seeers. What's behind this? We asked Dr. Kathrin Tatschner, chief physician at the Geriatric Rehabilitation Clinic of the AWO and Dr. Michael Schwab, chief physician of the geriatric rehabilitation clinic of the citizen hospital, both in Würzburg. Are we supposed to become grumpy?

Don't argue away

The results of the scientific investigations should not be discussed away, believes Dr. Tatschner, but she also refers to another Swiss study that says exactly the opposite. In her opinion, the strict black and white juxtaposition of pessimists on the one hand and optimists on the other cannot exist. She knows even fearful people who lived consciously, often complained, but fortunately have extremely stable health. On the other hand, she can imagine that people who look too carelessly into the future, who enjoy life to the full, smoke or drink, so that they also take higher health risks. Pessimists, on the other hand, are probably more disciplined and more sensitive to the limitations of life. They could therefore react faster and more consistently to the first warning signs. In the clinic, the doctors would see their patients in an exceptional situation and usually too briefly to be able to draw conclusions. But the doctor observes that older people who exercise regularly, eat healthily and avoid risks such as smoking, are less severely affected in the context of an acute illness and recover more quickly. One also has to differentiate between a fundamentally pessimistic attitude and fear of the future due to depression or dementia.

Take worries seriously

Dr. Michael Schwab emphasizes that pessimism should never be confused with unrecognized depression. Such mental illnesses could significantly reduce life expectancy by around 15 years. However, depression in old age is easy to treat. On the other hand, one shouldn't simply ignore well-founded concerns, warns the doctor. Everyone lives their own life and should get to know their body with body and soul. He is supported by the knowledge and commitment of the experts who “make health possible” (lat. Salutogenesis). Together it is necessary to look for reasons and solutions, such as social, medical and therapeutic help. Unfortunately, there are no patent remedies. When dealing with old and very old people, Dr. Schwab often goes for unadorned realism, spiced with a pinch of humor, which impresses him. This attitude is far from pessimism on principle or an optimistic “forever young” ideology. Rather, it would correspond to the recommendation of the geriatric researcher Prof. Hans Franke: "Stand in the affirmative of your old age and watch out for loneliness."

It seems that whining is not a panacea after all. So let's stop talking badly about our everyday life and enjoy everything beautiful, and whether pessimist or optimist, we pay attention to our health and take precautionary measures. This is how it will work in the 100 years!

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German Institute for Economic Research

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