Living a long healthy life might be more than just luck. And as it turns out, it may not involve a positive attitude, preventing stress or living a laid-back lifestyle, according to a groundbreaking study of personality as a predictor of longevity.
Researchers Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin of the University of California, Riverside, say as a result an 80-year “Longevity Project”, much of what we have come to understand as predictors of living to a ripe old age are just flat wrong.
Friedman and Martin examined, refined and supplemented data gathered by the late Stanford University psychologist Louis Terman and subsequent researchers on more than 1,500 bright children who were about 10-years-old when they were first studied in 1921.
"Probably our most amazing finding was that personality characteristics and social relations from childhood can predict one's risk of dying decades later," Friedman concluded.
The study followed the children through their lives, collecting information that included family histories and relationships, teacher and parent ratings of personality, hobbies, pet ownership, job success, education levels, military service and numerous other details.
"When we started, we were frustrated with the state of research about individual differences, stress, health and longevity," Friedman recalled. "It was clear that some people were more prone to disease, including chronic disease such as cancer, some people took longer to recover, or died sooner, while others of the same age were able to thrive.”
The researchers considered all sorts of explanations: anxiety, lack of exercise, nerve-racking careers, risk-taking, lack of religion, unsociability, disintegrating social groups, pessimism, poor access to medical care, and type A behavior patterns.
The study was the first to follow participants throughout their lives. Over the years, tens of thousands official documents were tracked and analyzed, which Martin said opened a new understanding about happiness and health.