Goal Perseverance and Optimism Linked to Lower Depression, Anxiety Risk


People who don’t give up on their goals—or who get better at not giving up over time— appear to have less anxiety and depression and fewer panic attacks, according to a study of thousands of Americans over the course of 18 years. Not surprisingly, having a positive outlook was also beneficial.

The study included 3,294 adults who answered questions at three points over an 18-year period about their approach to life. The participants were also evaluated for symptoms of depression, anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. The researchers, who published their findings last year in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, wanted to understand which specific coping strategies would be helpful in reducing rates of these illnesses.

Participants with high levels of perseverance and optimism were less likely to develop a mood or anxiety disorder, and those who had one of these disorders were more likely to see their levels of perseverance and optimism drop. Cultivating persistence seemed to pay off: Those who got better over time at not giving up on life goals were less likely to develop one of these disorders.

People who are feeling stressed or unhappy may end up abandoning their important projects. This can give a temporary sense of relief, but may lead to regret, disappointment, and more unhappiness. If you’ve lost your sense of purpose or the ability to see the glass as half full, a therapist can help you reframe the way you view life.