The study was based on the “Human Population Laboratory survey” that started in California in 1965 where they followed almost 7000 adults for nine years.  The subjects in the study received detailed medical tests and screening and were followed up annually on their health status.

In addition, they were also simply asked to self-rate their current general health as “excellent,” “good,” “fair” or “poor” on an annual basis.

Hypothetical patient #1: On their actual medical exam they may have had high blood pressure, arthritic changes in their knees and low iron, but they perceived themselves as being in “excellent” health.

Hypothetical patient #2: On their actual medical exam they had a clean bill of health but they perceived themselves as being in “poor” health.


Fascinating finding: They found that perceived health was a better predictor of mortality and happiness than actual health.

What can we learn from this study? Obviously no matter how optimistic we are about our health, we all eventually die. However, it seems as though with identical medical issues, optimistic people live longer.

Although perceived health has not been found to influence mortality in those with various serious illnesses such as cancer, optimism has been shown to be positively correlated with better coping skills and quality of life even in those diagnosed with cancer.

Optimism is the opium of the people.”

Milan Kundera


Reference: Kaplan GA, Camacho T. Perceived health and mortality: a nine-year follow-up of the human population laboratory cohort. Am J Epidemiol. 1983 Mar;117(3):292-304.
Finck C et al Quality of life in breast cancer patients: Associations with optimism and social support. Int J Clin Health Psychol. 2018 Jan-Apr;18(1):27-34.
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