Woody Allen, who once said "life is divided between the horrible and the miserable," may actually have something to cheer about.
Older people who see the glass as half empty and who harbor low expectations for a satisfying future may be more likely to live longer, healthier lives than those who are more optimistic, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
"Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade," said lead author Frieder Lang, a professor at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, in a press release. "Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions."
Lang and his colleagues based their findings on surveys of 40,000 people between the ages of 18 and 96 conducted from 1993 to 2003. Through mostly face-to-face interviews, respondents were asked to rate how satisfied they were with their lives and how satisfied they thought they'd be in five years.
After five years, researchers repeated the interviews. They found that 43 percent of the oldest group -- those from 65 to 96 -- had underestimated their future life satisfaction, 25 percent had been right on the mark and 32 percent had overestimated, according to the study. Further analysis showed that those who overestimated how happy they'd be were found to have a 9.5 percent rise in reported disabilities and a 10 percent rise in risk of death.
Because a darker outlook on the future is often more realistic, older adults' predictions of their future satisfaction may be more accurate, according to the study. In contrast, the youngest group had the sunniest outlook while the middle-aged adults made the most accurate predictions, but became more pessimistic over time.
"Unexpectedly, we also found that stable and good health and income were associated with expecting a greater decline compared with those in poor health or with low incomes," Lang said. "Moreover, we found that higher income was related to a greater risk of disability."
In general, the new study contradicts the findings of previous research that a positive attitude can have a biological impact on people and that it can actually help them live longer.
But Lang said his findings don't go against theories that unrealistic optimism about the future can sometimes help people feel better when they are facing inevitable negative outcomes, such as terminal disease, according to the authors. "We argue, though, that the outcomes of optimistic, accurate or pessimistic forecasts may depend on age and available resources," Lang said. "These findings shed new light on how our perspectives can either help or hinder us in taking actions that can help improve our chances of a long healthy life."
Earlier on HuffPost50:
1. Make Bad Dietary Choices
Over the years, there's been a lot of debate related to diet and longevity. But most experts agree that a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-williams-phd/best-diets_b_2268460.html" target="_blank">diet low in sugar and refined carbohydrates is best</a>. And some studies show that eating a traditional <a href="http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBJN%2FBJN84_S2%2FS0007114500002701a.pdf&code=a4a2995aa69a094808c095f29250a990" target="_blank">Mediterranean diet</a> can add years to your life.
2. Never Check Your Cholesterol
Just like high blood pressure, <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-lower-cholesterol-risk" target="_blank">high cholesterol can also increase your risk of heart disease</a> and stroke. Therefore it's a good idea to have your cholesterol checked to see whether you need to undergo certain lifestyle changes or even possibly take some kind of cholesterol-lowering medication. For more information about cholesterol and saturated fats, go <a href="http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/fats-full-story/" target="_blank">here.</a> Eating certain foods, such as beans, which are rich in fiber and antioxidants, can help lower cholesterol.
3. Mix Alcohol And Prescription Or Illicit Drugs
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/whitney-houston-prescription-drugs_b_1280439.html" target="_hplink">Even drinking wine with dinner and then taking prescription sleep aides can be a lethal combination</a>. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found 5.8 percent of people age 50 to 59 used illicit drugs in 2010, up from 2.7 percent in 2002.
4. Never Check For Diabetes
The number of Americans with <a href="http://www.diabetes.org/" target="_hplink">Type 2 diabetes</a> is expected to rise from 30 million today to 46 million by 2030, when one of every four boomers -- 14 million -- will be living with this chronic disease, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. <br /> <br />Untreated diabetes can lead to blindness, amputations and clogged arteries that can cause heart attacks and strokes. The test to determine whether you are diabetic is a simple blood test; you should remind your doctor to include it in your annual physical.
5. Pack On The Pounds
More than one out of every three boomers -- more than 21 million -- will be considered obese by 2030. Already, we are the demographic with the highest and fastest-growing rate of obesity. As we age, our metabolism slows down and we burn fewer calories -- if we don't alter our eating and exercise patterns, weight gain is inevitable. Obesity can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and a host of other life-threatening ailments. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/the-dieting-10-percent-club-losing-weight-after-50_b_1440729.html" target="_hplink">Losing just 10 percent of your body weight</a> has health benefits, so consider that as a goal.
6. Ignore The Signs Of A Heart Attack
No chest pain doesn't mean no heart attack. <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/her-guide-to-a-heart-attack" target="_hplink">Women having heart attacks</a> frequently report experiencing a feeling of indigestion and extreme fatigue, while some men say they feel a fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of the chest, which may spread to the neck, shoulder or jaw. When a diabetic has a heart attack, the pain is often displaced to other areas such as the lower back.
7. Get Little Sleep
Try as you might, you just can't stay asleep, right? You pass out before "60 Minutes" is over, but then wake up around midnight and count sheep until the alarm goes off. If that sounds like you, you aren't alone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5842a2.htm" target="_hplink">boomers report not getting enough sleep between one and 13 nights each month</a>. Is it life-threatening? In itself, no. But as soon as you slip behind the wheel bleary-eyed, you are putting yourself and others at risk. Your reflexes are slower, you pay less attention and you could become one of the more than 100,000 Americans who fall asleep at the wheel and crash each year. And the <a href="http://drowsydriving.org/about/facts-and-stats/" target="_hplink">National Highway Traffic Safety Administration</a> says that's a conservative estimate, by the way. Driver fatigue results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
8. Avoid Exercise
AARP says the minimum you need to stay healthy are muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week, plus 2.5 hours a week of moderate activity like walking or 75 minutes a week of a more intense activity like jogging. Exercise is also good for your memory: Just one year of <a href="http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-02-2011/keep_your_memory_strong_by_walking.html" target="_hplink">walking three times a week can increase the size of the hippocampus</a>, the part of the brain that's key to memory.
9. Carry The World's Burdens On Your Shoulders
We're talking about stress with a capital S. Boomers are the sandwich generation, caught in the middle of caring for our parents and our children. We were deeply affected by the recession and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/midlife-crisis-depression-is-ok-the-new-good_b_1470958.html" target="_hplink">boomers have the highest rates of depression</a> by age demographic. Unless we unload, we are going to implode.
10. Carry A Beer Belly And A Caboose
It isn't just our extra weight; it's where we carry it. An excess of visceral fat causes our abdomens to protrude excessively. We call it a "pot belly" or "beer belly" or if the visceral fat is on our hips and buttocks, we say we are "apple shaped." Cute names aside, scientists now say that body fat, instead of body weight, is the key to evaluating obesity. And guess what? It's all bad.
11. Continue To Smoke
<a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/128183/smoking-age-baby-boomer-bulge.aspx" target="_hplink">Gallup found that baby boomers between the ages of 44 and 54 reported higher levels of smoking</a> than those immediately younger or those who are older. Hard to imagine that they haven't gotten the word yet about the risks cigarettes carry.