If you, like most people, answered the pessimist, you're only partly right. Twenty years of research has shown that pessimistic children and young adults are more vulnerable to depression than optimists. But a recent study of older adults has revealed just the opposite: The more pessimistic and realistic older adults are about life events, the less vulnerable they are to the blues.
The study, by researcher Derek M. Isaacowitz, M.A., and psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., looked at 71 older adults, ages 64 to 94. The researchers first determined whether the person had an optimistic or pessimistic outlook. (From a psychological perspective, optimists view negative happenings as temporary setbacks, attributing them to external causes that they can control. Pessimists, on the other hand, feel helpless in the face of such events and attribute them to internal failings.)
The researchers then gathered information on the participants' moods and number of negative life events during the one-year study. To their surprise, they discovered that optimistic older people who had experienced negative life events had the highest levels of depressive symptoms. Pessimists, on the other hand, tended to experience only intermediate levels of depression, apparently because of their more realistic views of life's difficulties. Optimists whose lives had been going swimmingly showed fewest depressive symptoms of all, proving that the best way to avoid depression is to have nothing bad ever happen.