Optimism Grows with Age | Visualized Health

Reviewed by The Clinical Committee

May 02, 2019

  • If you're young and unhappy, don't worry, things get better.

  • Several studies show that optimism increases with age.

  • In fact, most people don't peak until their 50s, and many will continue to grow in optimism well after their 60s.

Optimism from Age 50-100

Optimism from Age 50-100

Figure 1: Optimism from Age 50-100. Optimism tends to increase through a person's 50s and 60s. It then declines in a person's 70s and 80s until climbing back after a person reaches 95. The line above was generated from a statistical model. Red lines indicate growing optimism. Blue lines indicate declining optimism. Data was obtained from 9,790 older American adults.

If you have ever wondered whether life gets any better or whether you'll be any happier, optimism research has some reassuring answers.

Generally, things get better or at least people become happier and more optimistic with age.

In one of the largest studies on optimism over time, researchers surveyed 9,790 older adults to see how optimism changes during old age. They found that optimism generally peaked in a person's 50s and 60s.

It declined in a person's 70s and 80s, often driven by health issues and chronic conditions. But, once you reach your 90s and 100s, it starts bouncing back up.

Statistical Modelling

This study used a statistical model to analyze and present the data. In this process, researchers take the raw data generated in the study and try to find an equation or a "line" that best fits and captures the relationship between the variables. The benefits are that it allows you to easily see the trends within the data. The downside is that the model is not a perfect fit of the raw data. Also, there may be multiple possible models that fit the data well, which may not be presented.

Source: Changes in Optimism Are Associated with Changes in Health Over Time Among Older Adults

Optimism Over a Lifetime

Optimism Over a Lifetime

Figure 2: Optimism Over a Lifetime. Optimism is generally the lowest in a person’s 20s and 30s. It increases until your 50s and 60s. The line indicates the optimism score obtained in the study at a certain age. The white area represents the margin of error. Data was obtained from 1,160 Mexican Americans.

If you're in your 20s and 30s and feeling less than optimistic, a second study provides some welcomed news. Optimism is generally the lowest in your 20s and 30s.

However, it rapidly grows until you reach your 50s. This means that on average, you should expect things to start looking better with time.

This second study followed 1,160 Mexican Americans over a period of 7 years to see how their optimism changed over time.

From this set of volunteers, researchers confirmed that optimism generally peaks in a person's 50s and 60s. They also found that optimism during this time is significantly higher than optimism in a person's 20s and 30s.

Obtaining Data from a Homogenous Population

This study researched subjects who were from the same segment of the population, and had a lot in common. This can benefit a study by removing potential confounding variables, as there are fewer potential differences between people outside of the studied variable. However, the conclusions may be less applicable than a study that looks at a slice of the global population as a whole.

Source: Optimism Development Across Adulthood and Associations With Positive and Negative Life Events

Optimism Depends on Life Events

Optimism Depends on Life Events

Figure 3: Optimism Over a Lifetime. Optimism depends highly on your life events. The bottom line indicates the optimism score for individuals with negative life events. The top line represents optimism in individuals with positive life events. Data was obtained from 1,160 Mexican Americans.

As you can probably guess by looking at your friends, not everyone is equally optimistic. Some people appear perpetually optimistic while others have a constant dim view on life.

A study backs this up with data. They found that individuals who have had many positive life events, such as salary increases and good relationships, have more optimism at every age than individuals with more negative life events.

People who have had more positive life events generally peak in optimism in their late 50s and early 60s, while people who have had many negative life events peak in optimism in their 40s.

Source: Optimism Development Across Adulthood and Associations With Positive and Negative Life Events

Optimism & Health

Optimism doesn't just feel good, it's also good for your health according to experts:

The idea of optimism leading to better health has been studied. Researchers have reviewed the results of over 80 studies to look for common findings. They found optimism had a remarkable impact on physical health. The study examined overall longevity, survival from a disease, heart health, immunity, cancer outcomes, pregnancy outcomes, pain tolerance, and other health topics. It seemed that those who had a more optimistic outlook did better and had better results than those who were pessimistic.

Source: Can Optimism Make a Difference in Your Life?

Key Takeaways

If you're feeling down, consider the fact that everyone generally has a lot to look forward to. On average, things get better. Even when optimism declines in old age, it doesn't decline as much as it increases. People generally stay pretty optimistic through their 70s, 80s, and 90s.

The research does show that much of this depends on your health. Taking care of your health in your 30s and 40s can help prevent many of the chronic conditions that take a toll on optimism once you reach your golden years.

Related: Emotional Stress and the Heart

Good health can lead to good feelings. However, bad feelings can likewise lead to worse health. Stressful life events not only affect optimism; they can also affect heart disease.

Emotional stress damages your heart and your health. New research shows significantly higher risks of heart attack and stroke after psychiatric diagnoses from stressful life events. PTSD was the most damaging stress-related disorder.

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How Emotional Stess Affects...

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Related: Commuting and Happiness

A small thing you can try to increase your happiness and well-being is walking or biking to work!

Did you know that how you commute is linked to happiness? Studies across two countries have come to similar findings. People who bike or walk to work are happier.

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