Live Longer By Being Optimistic!

While occasionally optimism can get you in trouble by being too trusting, I think it’s generally a better way to live. But, I still wonder why so many people can be overly optimistic about things like the lottery. Why do we all believe we can win when we’re more likely to get struck by lightning?

In healthcare, this means that we might overestimate our likelihood of getting better, not getting sick, or minimizing the risks of a surgery or medicine. “That will never happen to me.” According to an article about The Optimism Bias by Tali Sharot, people may get pessimistic about the broad economy but their private optimism stays very high.

For example, one study he mentions showed that cancer patients who were pessimistic were more likely to die within 8 months than optimistic patients. There was another article earlier this year about the impact of optimism on outcomes.

Another study talks about priming participants with key words such as smart and clever versus stupid and ignorant and comparing how they perform on a test. Guess what, the positive reinforcement led to better scores. (Why to pump your kids and co-workers up with positive self-esteem.) Perhaps, most importantly, the brains that expected to do poorly didn’t trigger responses to learn from their mistakes while the other participants did.

A few data points from the article:

  • 10% of Americans expect to live to be 100…while only 0.02% do
  • 0% of people getting married expect to divorce…but we know the numbers here
  • 93% of people believed they were in the top 50th percentile for their driving ability

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