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 asses 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.”
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.
The UC Davis researchers also wanted to see what factors seem to impact how optimistic people are. Those who reported more positive life events—such as being in a happy marriage—also had higher levels of optimism. But, more surprisingly, people who had more negative life experiences weren’t necessarily less optimistic than their counterparts. This led researchers to believe that while positive life events have the ability to boost our levels of optimism, negative life events don’t necessarily detract from them.
Either way, the new research clearly shows that if you’re in your 40s, you’ve got a whole lot to look forward to. And for more good news on that front, check out Science Says This is the Age When Creativity Hits Its Peak.
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