Vivez vieux et heureux, soyez pessimistes.
A growing body of research has credited the power of positive thinking for contributing to good health and a longer, happier life. But a new study out of Germany suggests people who are pessimistic about their futures — specifically older people — may find greater life satisfaction down the road than their more optimistic peers.
“The optimists are those who basically close their eyes, shut their eyes and don’t really want to know about the truth” about the inevitable costs of aging and death, he said. “That’s how we interpreted this finding — that basically these things [pessimistic expectations] really help people to be aware that they need to be cautious.”
The longitudinal study, published this month in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology and Aging, set out to discover how anticipations about future life satisfaction change over time.
More than two-thirds of older Germans, aged 65 to 96, who thought life would only get worse actually had better health outcomes, said lead study author Frieder R. Lang, a professor at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and the German Institute for Economic Research.
“If you really think about the future in five years, understanding that although things are fine right now they might get worse, this seems to have a positive effect on lower disability risks and lower mortality risks,” he said in an interview Wednesday from Germany.
A pessimistic future forecast is often the more realistic one, he said. Older people, after all, see a narrowing future with physical and mental breakdown as well as death on the horizon. As such, thinking things will probably be bad could motivate people to take advantage of more social services, for example, or make investments that will ease the aging process, he said.
[…] While the findings may appear to fly in the face of positive psychology, it actually jives very well with it, Mr. Lang said.
“We think this is very consistent with our findings because five years later you find out that five years earlier you were a little too pessimistic and you are positive again,” he said. “Things may have gotten worse, but then you learn to understand how to interpret them positively. But then if you think about the next five years, things may not stay as good as they are today and so you keep struggling for the good things to keep up but you expect things could get worse.”
Wary that the findings not be misinterpreted, he added this: “There are already a lot of findings that being positive is actually positive,” he said. “In our study, we only add to it that being positive right now may not inform us well about the effects of how you think about the future.”
National Post, Sarah Boesveld: “Want a longer, happier life? Embrace pessimism, study says.”