Anticipating the best possible outcome is something to strive for. But it’s not always easy. At what age does optimism come most naturally? Science thinks they have the trajectory figured out – and in fact, narrowed down to a specific age.
New research from the University of California Davis that was published in Social Psychology and Personality Science used data gathered from a large sample of Mexican-Americans between the ages of 26 and 71 and followed them over a seven-year period. At four points over that period, the participants completed a six-question Life Orientation Test, a commonly used measure of optimism.
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In addition, the group was also asked 54 questions about various life events, both positive and negative, that may have happened to them recently, such as moving to a bad neighborhood, getting into a good college, or making a new friend, according to Psychology Today.
Using the information from these answers, researchers determined the direction of optimism throughout our lives.
We’re the most pessimistic in our twenties, they found, but our optimism ascends as we reach our thirties and continues on upward into our forties. Optimism peaks when we’re in our fifties, and slowly declines after that. The researchers pinpointed 55 as the age when people – both men and women – were at peak optimism.
These findings were in sync with other research, which has also concluded that optimism rises as we get older and declines after mid-age. Life satisfaction and self-esteem is thought to climb with it – just more to look forward to.
Researchers also looked at a smaller sample of non-immigrants for the study and found that their optimism trajectory manifested differently than the above Mexican-American sample. For non-immigrants, there was a distinct lack of optimism until their 40s, when it began to rise, and continued to do so well into their 70s. However, since non-immigrants represented only 14% of the total sample, researchers wrote, “we refrain from further interpreting this finding until more evidence emerges.”
There was one “booster” that tended to inflate people’s optimism even more: people who had luckier lives, full of positive events like graduating from college, receiving generous pay, and developing strong romantic relationships.
More interestingly, however, was the discovery that people with more negative life events were not any more or less optimistic than other people. People with difficult lives remained equally optimistic as those who had been blessed with life’s rewards.
Life is long, and nobody knows what could happen – positive or negative. Work hard, play hard, and enjoy the ride. Changes are that the longer you do, the sunnier your outlook will be.
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