In general, the answer appears that it is.
Of course, being run over by a car might mean that you live a short life despite being optimistic about crossing that bit of road.
One clue comes from an interesting article from the Conversation. This explored research which suggested optimists live longer than pessimists. And it (optimistically) suggests that it is possible to develop optimism and perhaps reap this benefit.
They pointed to studies* that have shown that optimists enjoy higher levels of wellbeing, better sleep, lower stress and even better cardiovascular health and immune function.
Then, a specific study on women in 2022 ** has shown that being an optimist is linked to a longer life. Using data from the large Women’s Health Initiative (N = 159,255) where participants completed a validated measure of optimism and provided other demographic and health data at baseline.
This concluded “Higher optimism was associated with longer lifespan and a greater likelihood of achieving exceptional longevity overall and across racial and ethnic groups. The contribution of lifestyle to these associations was modest. Optimism may promote health and longevity in diverse racial and ethnic groups.”
This is of particular interest when looking at the mental toughness concept.
As we understand the concept better, we can see that the 8 factors broadly (but not exactly) fall into two groupings. One describes resilience. The other explains positivity (which is where optimism sits). This is illustrated in this image:
Although there are well over 200 peer-reviewed independent academic papers supporting the 4Cs mental toughness concept and with MTQ measures, none yet look specifically at longevity
It does chime with work carried out at Queens University, Belfast, on the 4Cs mental toughness concept which indicated there may be a correlation with telomere deterioration. This research (never completed) indicated that the more mentally tough (who tend to be the more optimistic and positive in outlook) tend to preserve telomeres better which also corresponds to life expectancy.
Telomeres are small pieces of DNA that sit on the ends of our chromosomes. They play a role in protecting DNA from attack and deterioration. They are associated with preventing many diseases and illnesses… and with ageing. They can and do deteriorate as cells are reproduced.
When telomeres become too short to function effectively, a cell dies or stops dividing. So because most cells cannot regenerate their telomeres, they become shorter as people age. The rate at which telomeres shorten has been associated with rates of ageing.
There is some indication that it is possible to reverse telomere shortening and thus live longer.
The study reported in The Conversation indicated that it may be possible to extend longevity by becoming more optimistic. I quote:
“Research shows optimism can change over time, and can be cultivated by engaging in simple exercises. For example, visualising and then writing about your “best possible self” (a future version of yourself who has accomplished your goals) is a technique that studies have found can significantly increase optimism ***, at least temporarily. But for best results, the goals need to be both positive and reasonable, rather than just wishful thinking. Similarly, simply thinking about future events **** can also be effective for boosting optimism.
Many will recognise these as useful techniques which are very well aligned with the 4Cs 8-factor mental toughness framework.
Other research on longevity has looked at fitness. Specifically walking. Exploring the belief that walking 10,000 steps a day is particularly good for you. And it is.
A study from the Harvard Medical School found:
- Sedentary women averaged 2,700 steps a day.
- Women who averaged 4,400 daily steps had a 41% reduction in mortality.
- Mortality rates progressively improved before levelling off at approximately 7,500 steps per day.
- There were about nine fewer deaths per 1,000 person-years in the most active group compared with the least active group.
So, if mortality is a major concern, this study suggests you can reap benefits from 7,500 steps a day. That’s 25% fewer steps than the more common goal of 10,000 steps.
Once again, we know that there is abundant evidence for the relationship between mental toughness and exercise.
So, it might seem that those who are concerned with longevity could do worse than look at their own mental toughness profile to determine what they might do differently or better to enjoy these extra years.
Of course, to develop optimism/mental toughness you need to be self-aware about this “invisible” quality. Not easy because you can’t see it and mental toughness research shows that it has those several components – the eight factors.
So, again, self-awareness is the key, which is what the mental toughness concept and 8-factor framework together with the MTQPlus measure enable.
For information about becoming a licensed user of the MTQ suite of measures contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The MTQPlus measure is available in 14 languages, accessible to more than 2/3rds of the world’s population.
Completion of the AQR Licensed user training programme is recognised by EMCC and ICF for CPD purposes.
*Scheier, M. F., Swanson, J. D., Barlow, M. A., Greenhouse, J. B., Wrosch, C., & Tindle, H. A. (2021). Optimism versus pessimism as predictors of physical health: A comprehensive reanalysis of dispositional optimism research. American Psychologist,. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000666
** Hayami K Koga , Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald , Lewina O Lee , Peter James , Candyce Kroenke, Lorena Garcia, Aladdin H Shadyab, Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, JoAnn E Manson , Francine Grodstein , Laura D Kubzansky .(2022) Optimism, lifestyle, and longevity in a racially diverse cohort of women. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35674052/
*** John M. Malouff & Nicola S. Schutte (2017) Can psychological interventions increase optimism? A meta-analysis, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12:6, 594-604, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1221122
**** Jessica Fosnaugh, Andrew L. Geers & Justin A. Wellman (2009) Giving Off a Rosy Glow: The Manipulation of an Optimistic Orientation, The Journal of Social Psychology, 149:3, 349-364, DOI: 10.3200/SOCP.149.3.349-364