Why do some people live to be older than others? You know the
standard explanations: keeping an abstemious diet; engaging in regular
exercise; and, if you’re an unusual Frenchwoman, smoking cigarettes until you are 117 years old.
But what effect does your personality have on your longevity Do
some kinds of temperaments lead to longer lives A new
study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
looked at this question by examining the personality traits of 246
children of people who had lived to be at least 100.
The study shows that those who live the longest are more outgoing,
more active and less neurotic than other people. Long-living women
are also more likely to be empathetic and cooperative than women with
a normal life span. These findings comport with what you would expect
from evolutionary theory: those who are extroverted enough to make
friends and help others are those who are going to be able to gather
enough resources to make it through tough times.
Interestingly, however, other traits that you might consider
advantageous had no impact in this study on whether participants were
likely to live longer. Those who were more self-disciplined, for
instance, were no more likely to live to be very old . Also, being open to
new ideas had no relationship to long life, which might explain all
those cantankerous old people who are fixed in their ways.
Whether you can successfully change your personality as an adult is
the subject of a longstanding psychological debate . But the new paper
suggests that if you want long life, you should strive to be as
outgoing as possible.
Unfortunately, another recent study shows that your mother’s personality which, of course, you can’t change may also help determine your
longevity. That study looked at nearly 28,000 Norwegian mothers and
found that those moms who were more anxious, depressed and angry were
more likely to feed their kids unhealthy diets full of chocolate, soda
and pancakes. Patterns of childhood eating can be very hard to break
when we’re adults adults, which may mean that kids of depressed moms end up dying
Personality isn’t destiny, of course, and everyone knows that
individuals can learn to change. But both of the new studies
show that long life isn’t just a matter of your physical health but of
your mental health also.
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