Could Your Personality Help You Live Longer?
There’s so much information available today about ways you can live a long life. Some people say it’s the foods you eat and your activity level, some say it’s due to your genes, and still others claim that an active mind is key. Truthfully, like all things in life, the answer is probably not simple black and white but more grey. There is no magic combination that will unlock the secret to a long life, but the more research is done on longevity, the more we discover about who lives longer and why. The newest information on this topic is actually based on research that was begun in the early 1900’s regarding the personality types of people who live long lives.
In 1921, a Stanford University psychologist, Lewis Terman, began gathering detailed information on 1,500 children. What is interesting about the “Terman Project,” as it became known, is that he chose bright children who were doing well in school, and gathered information about all aspects of their lives: their health, what they liked to do, their families, how they felt about themselves and others, and then continued documenting this group, both throughout his life, and then through other researchers who continued the project…for eight decades! This meant that a huge amount of detailed information was kept regarding this same research group throughout their lives. Taking a look at this huge amount of information, modern researchers Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin began to compile the data for a book published in 2011 called “The Longevity Project.”
So what did the researchers find regarding how long people live and why? And what does what they found have to do with your own life, longevity and personality? Friedman and Martin found that the best predictor of how long a person will live is actually based on a personality trait that is already established in childhood! What is surprising is that it’s not the trait many people would think, such as a positive outlook or an outgoing personality. Nope, the best predictor for determining if a person will live longer is “conscientiousness.” This means a person is dependable, obeys the rules, looks after their own health, and doesn’t engage in risky behavior. This finding has been backed up by several other studies that came to the same conclusion.
Why do children who are conscientious tend to have long lives? Friedman and Martin, in their Longevity book, offer some reasons. These children grow into adults who tend to take care of their health and don’t try smoking or other risky habits. There is also evidence that people with this personality type have different levels of chemicals in their brains that make them less likely to experience many common diseases. Also, the people were most conscientious also seemed to have better relationships with others and made healthy life choices that meant they were happier and less likely to turn to bad choices.
This information is great for people who already have this personality type, but if this doesn’t sound like you, don’t panic. Trying to force yourself into a different personality isn’t going to work and most likely won’t bring you a long life. Instead, you can try making small changes in your life that can lead to a more positive outcome. Quit smoking, or enter a smoking cessation program. Try to lose that little bit of extra weight, or begin cutting out sugar and excess fat in favor of more fruits and vegetables. When making choices, try to look ahead instead of making a decision just for the moment. Not only can you use the best parts of your personality to improve your life, you can also use them to extend your life as well!