Optimism (if you can manage some)

People with optimistic outlooks tend to live longer than their more negative peers, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine have found.

The study drew on data from two long-running studies of Americans aged over 60: one of 1,500 male war veterans, and one of 70,000 female nurses. At the start of both, the participants had completed questionnaires to gauge how optimistic they were, and had also been asked about other factors likely to influence their longevity, including diet, health and exercise.

Analysis of the data, adjusted to take account of these “confounders”, revealed that most optimistic participants lived 10% to 15% longer on average than the least optimistic ones, and that they were significantly more likely to live to the age of 85. “Healthier behaviours and lower levels of depression only partially explained our findings,” said lead researcher Dr Lewina Lee. “Initial evidence from other studies suggests that more optimistic people tend to have goals and the confidence to reach them, are more effective in problem-solving, and they may be better at regulating their emotions during stressful situations.”

The exciting possibility raised by the findings is that we may be able to “promote healthy and resilient ageing by cultivating psycho-social assets such as optimism” in people. (The Week,  7 September 2019)

My comment:  All fine and well, but in my opinion there are too many threats to human rights and freedoms, too many health and employment insecurities, too much power given to the super-rich,  not to mention too many foreign challenges, to talk about optimism.  Hope maybe, but only someone who ignores current events and lives in la-la land can feel happy and confident living in  either the US or the UK at this time.  Would someone reading this be kind enough to suggest reasons why I am being unduly gloomy, given that I advocate the humanistic and reassuring thoughts of Epicurus?

Happy to use email for any prolonged discussion.



  1. (please excuse my writing in english, which may not be fluent, it is not my mother tongue). I believe we may try to follow Epicurus thoughts today without being optimistic about everything. Epicure tells us to never despair, indeed, in the Letter to Menoeceus, but this is right after telling us we shall not hope death to free us from an unhappy life. Thus, it is not really a “be optimistic anyway” assertion but a very precise case in which Epicurus tells us to be so : you should not kill yourself. And moreover, in the same sentence, he specifies that, as well as we should never despair, we can’t also never be sure that what we are hoping for is going to happen In other words, we should never be totally optimistic. Epicurus thoughts may be a great thing to follow today because they could make us happier and wiser, but not foolishly optimistic.

      • Thank you for your reply, Robert, je la lis avec plaisir.

        Do you agree with the reason I suggest to conciliate the pursuit of happiness following the thoughts of Epicurus and a “not too much optimistic” point of view ?

        P.S. : if it suits you, I would prefer this discussion to be continued by e-mails

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