Pessimism Increases Risk of Early Death

A 70-year study of personality traits suggests that pessimism is a risk factor for early death, especially among men. The study results also indicate that pessimism can be linked to increased risk for sudden death from accidents or violence. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time may actually be a result of pessimistic or fatalistic thinking, rather than coincidence, in some cases. Pessimists were defined as fatalistic people who tend to blame themselves when things go wrong and who believe that one bad event can ruin the rest of their life. They also tend to expect bad things to happen to them and feel that they have little or no ability to change their situation. Males were more likely than females to be classified as pessimistic. Compared with individuals with a more cheerful and optimistic outlook, pessimists were more likely to die from accidents and violence (including suicide).

A pessimistic personality may lead to poor problem-solving ability, social difficulties and risky decision-making. Taken together, these variables put the pessimist at higher risk of untimely death, say the researchers. Such a person is less likely to avoid or escape potentially hazardous situations, the researchers concluded. A pessimistic way of thinking in which people catastrophize about bad events, projecting them across many realms of their lives, foreshadows untimely death decades later.

Psychological Science March 1998;9:127-130

COMMENT: Again, someone did quite a bit of work to confirm an element of truth. I suspect most of know this intuitively. This study confirms that a consistent negative outlook can and will, quite frequently, result in the viewpoint. It is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It makes so much more sense to be consistently optimistic. I am certain that the converse of this study is also true: that a consistent optimistic viewpoint will result in better events in one's life.

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