This Is The Age When We’re Most Optimistic

Kalyan Chakravarthy / CC

There’s a widespread assumption that people start life off brimming with optimism and become increasingly negative and bitter as they age. But a new study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science is challenging the notion that optimism is reserved for the young. Through their study, researchers from the University of California, Davis, found that the trajectory of optimism actually follows an inverted U-shaped curve, hitting its peak when we’re in our mid-50s. To assess levels of optimism, researchers asked participants—adults aged 26 to 71—to complete the Life Orientation Test (LOT) four times throughout a seven-year period. The LOT is used to assess an individual’s differences in generalized optimism versus pessimism. For the purposes of the UC Davis study, participants rated how strongly they agreed with statements such as, “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best,” “If something can go wrong for me, it will,” and, “Overall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad.” They were then asked an additional 54 questions that evaluated how they responded to positive and negative events in their own lives, such as a promotion or a lay-off. The results showed that optimism was actually at its lowest among participants in their 20s, then it rose steadily for those in their mid-30s and 40s, before hitting its peak at the age of 55. It’s interesting to note that a 2018 study published in the Psychological Bulletin found that the trajectory of self-esteem follows a similar a curve, hitting its peak at the age of 60.

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