I’m seriously beginning to wonder about a popular “news” website I visit on occasion and the information stream we are bombarded with every day. Recent headlines include: “Mating tortoises knock over lamp, burn down garage.” Mr. and Mrs. O’Leary, whose cow burned down Chicago, would have gotten a kick out of that one. “Man lands in court for laughing too loudly” - “How cats make decisions” - “Could you go a year without pants?”
But the headline that caught my attention - and that’s what headlines are designed to do - was cast above a photo of a dour Woody Allen: “Pessimists Live Longer Lives According to a New Study.”
This study was prepared by the American Psychological Association. Bottom line: “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.”
This study took 10 years to complete and showed that a darker outlook on the future is most realistic. Young folks have the sunniest outlook on life and, apparently it goes downhill from there.
But consider this. Another headline, on the same website, a while before: “Do Positive People Live Longer.” And the conclusion from the cheery Doctor David Hamilton, Ph.D.: “A host of exciting research has shown that attitude affects our health -- so much so, in fact, that a positive attitude can add years to your life.”
In fact, another study by the Mayo Clinic over a 30-year period found that optimists had a 50 percent lower risk of early death than pessimists. Conclusion: “Mind and body are linked and attitude has an impact on the final outcome -- death.”
And why do optimists live longer? Less stress. Stress causes inflammation inside the body. It’s a biological thing and it’s a side effect, apparently, of poor lifestyle choices.
So, this inflammation, the good Doctor tells us, is caused by a negative attitude that speeds up aging and is likely the reason positive people live longer. Now, if you’ve been following this column for a while, you’ll know which study I’m willing to favor.
We know life is a mystery. I think Mario Lanza sang about it. But now we have new science to support best practices for living a healthy life. And we’re learning more every day.
So my advice about “studies” on the internet: if you find one you clearly wonder about, wait a few days, there’ll be an opposite view.
And about that headline above Woody Allen’s photo: It was Woody who said, “I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose”. Doesn’t sound like a pessimist to me.