This week Christopher Peterson, a friend of mine and a psychologist who had shed much light on how negative thinking can kill you before your time, died before his time, at age 62.
More than 20 years ago, Chris published a pathbreaking study showing that optimists live longer than pessimists, and since then he had fleshed this story out in various and sometimes surprising ways. For example: he found that people who "catastrophize"--attribute negative events to global causes--are prone to untimely death (even by violence and accidents), and he found that optimists are less prone to strokes than pessimists.
Chris doesn't seem to have considered himself naturally an optimist, but he worked to become one, and he thought a lot about how each of us can brighten our outlook and bring meaning and purpose into our lives. (Having a sense of purpose, he was quick to point out, is yet another positive mental element that is correlated with longevity.) To that end, he wrote a column at Psychology Today called "The Good Life." His final column, published four days before his death, was called "Awesome: E Pluribus Unum," and its final two sentences were: "We are all the same, and each of us is unique, certainly in death but also in life. May we all stop and notice."