According to a new study, older people with low expectations for a “satisfying future” often live longer and healthier lives than optimists.
"Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade," said lead author of the study Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. "Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions."
The study looked at 40,000 adults ages 18 to 96 over the course of ten years using data collected by the annual German Socio-Economic Panel. Respondents were asked to rate what they expected their satisfaction level would be five years in the future. Five years later they were interviewed again for comparison.
The study found older respondents with a grim outlook on the future had given the most accurate predictions, whereas younger respondents tended to overestimate their future satisfaction. Of the older respondents, 43 percent underestimated their future life satisfaction, 25 percent had predicted accurately, and 32 percent had overestimated,
"Unexpectedly, we also found that stable and good health and income were associated with expecting a greater decline compared with those in poor health or with low incomes," said Lang. “Moreover, we found that higher income was related to a greater risk of disability.
"These findings shed new light on how our perspectives can either help or hinder us in taking actions that can help improve our chances of a long healthy life,” Lang added.
Life expectancy in the United States is now 78.5 years. The 2012 America’s Health Rankings showed Americans are living longer, with fewer deaths due to heart disease and cancer, but more chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Advances in medicine are also allowing people with these conditions to live longer lives.