People who are persistent and careful live the longest lives, research finds.
Surprisingly, to live a long life you don’t need to be particularly happy.
In fact, the people you might expect to live longest — cheerful, happy-go-lucky types — actually have the shortest lives.
The reason is that cheerful, laid-back people tend to be more careless about their health.
Persistent and conscientious people, though, get that check-up and are more committed to their work.
The conclusions come from a study that originally included 1,500 smart children.
They were followed from when they were 10-years-old in 1921.
Professor Howard S. Friedman, the study’s first author, said:
“Probably our most amazing finding was that personality characteristics and social relations from childhood can predict one’s risk of dying decades later.”
Namely, being conscientious predicted a long life, explained Professor Leslie R. Martin, study co-author:
“…participants who were the most cheerful and had the best sense of humor as kids lived shorter lives, on average, than those who were less cheerful and joking.
It was the most prudent and persistent individuals who stayed healthiest and lived the longest.”
The study also found that people who were the most committed to their jobs lived the longest.
Productive people lived longer than their more laid-back peers.
Professor Friedman said:
“…we found that as a general life-orientation, too much of a sense that ‘everything will be just fine’ can be dangerous because it can lead one to be careless about things that are important to health and long life.
Prudence and persistence, however, led to a lot of important benefits for many years.
It turns out that happiness is not a root cause of good health.
Instead, happiness and health go together because they have common roots.”
Some other pointers for a long life from the study included:
- Help others: it can lengthen your life.
- Avoid getting divorced if you are a man. Women, though, do just as well without their husbands.
- Don’t start formal schooling too soon — early play is important.
- Do work hard and stay committed to what you do.
It’s never too late to make a change, said Professor Martin:
“Thinking of making changes as taking ‘steps’ is a great strategy.
You can’t change major things about yourself overnight.
But making small changes, and repeating those steps, can eventually create that path to longer life.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The research was published in The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight Decade Study (Friedman & Martin, 2011).