Many Stay Optimistic Until Old Age Hits
People tend to be optimistic for most of their life, even when they have to cope with serious challenges, a new study finds.
Researchers surveyed 75,000 people aged 16 to 101 in the United States, Germany and the Netherlands to assess their optimism and outlook about the future.
"We found that optimism continued to increase throughout young adulthood, seemed to steadily plateau, and then decline into older adulthood," said study author William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.
"Even people with fairly bad circumstances, who have had tough things happen in their lives, look to their futures and life ahead and felt optimistic," he added in a university news release.
"Counterintuitively -- and most surprising -- we found that really hard things like deaths and divorce really didn't change a person's outlook to the future," Chopik said. "This shows that a lot of people likely subscribe to the 'life is short' mantra and realize they should focus on things that make them happy and maintain emotional balance."
The study was published online recently in the Journal of Research in Personality.
From the time people are 15 to almost 60 or 70, they become more and more optimistic, according to Chopik.
"There's a massive stretch of life during which you keep consistently looking forward to things and the future," he said. "Part of that has to do with experiencing success both in work and life.
"You find a job, you meet your significant other, you achieve your goals and so on. You become more autonomous and you are somewhat in control of your future; so, you tend to expect things to turn out well," Chopik noted.
But as people move into old age, optimism can decline, likely due to health concerns and knowing that most of their life is behind them.
"Retirement age is when people can stop working, have time to travel and to pursue their hobbies," Chopik said. "But very surprisingly, people didn't really think that it would change the outlook of their lives for the better."
One of the study's most important findings is people's resilience.
""We oftentimes think that the really sad or tragic things that happen in life completely alter us as people, but that's not really the case," Chopik said. "You don't fundamentally change as a result of terrible things; people diagnosed with an illness or those who go through another crisis still felt positive about the future and what life had ahead for them on the other side."