Your personality shapes your life in more ways than you might first think. The kind of person you are likely has an impact on the kinds of people you get along with, the way in which you react to certain situations and even, studies now suggest, how long you’ll live for.
The Longevity Project
Although immortality is still the stuff of legends, there are certain personality traits which are found over and over in people who live long lives. A study conducted by Stanford researchers Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin looked at 300 couples over a 75 year timespan. This was titled ‘The Longevity Project’.
The researchers used a series of personality questions, asking close friends and family of the participants as they were more likely to pick out accurate personality traits than the participants themselves, to determine the personalities of the participants. Over time, it was revealed which of these traits were common in those who lived the longest.
This actually makes a lot of sense. Our emotional health has a huge impact on our physical health – the effects of stress and anxiety often manifest themselves physically – so having the brain wired in a certain way could certainly lead to a healthier body.
So much to see, so little time
The world is full of so many incredible wonders that most of us will never have the time to explore. Having as long and healthy a life as possible is certainly something that appeals to many people and perhaps by being more mindful of our personality and their impact, we can start to make some positive changes.
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So what are the traits that were seen time and again in the oldest participants, and why did they have the impact they did?
Conscientiousness influences a lot of other behaviors in your day to day. Being more “on the pulse” and careful about the decisions you make first and foremost means you avoid risky behaviors that could lead to an early demise.
It also means you are more likely to take the time to make healthier decisions in life – for example whether you’ll smoke, or the kind of work you’ll do, helping reduce stress in the long run. Having a more careful, thoughtful outlook on life seems to go against the common notion of a more relaxed attitude leading to longevity, but it makes sense.
Some studies have also suggested that a conscientious attitude towards life means an increased ability to focus one’s attention on one thing and be strict with oneself. In turn, this means you’re using more brainpower, stimulating your mind and, according to some research, reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 89%.
Being open to new opportunities, ideas, feelings, and challenges really stands you in good stead too. Being so open and having a positive outlook on life not only gives you a sense of purpose and community, but it also opens new doors, giving you space to flourish and add new experiences to your long, happy life.
One study linked high levels of extroversion and low levels of neuroticism with positive health benefits and as such, longer lifespans. This is down to the fact that extroversion is connected to establishing meaningful relationships with others, as well as looking after yourself properly!
Interestingly, the study found that different genders were more prone to different personality traits. In the female participants, emotional stability stood out as a strong characteristic in those who lived for a long time. By being able to keep your emotions under control, you can avoid large surges of hormones through the body, which over a lifetime can really take their toll!
In a separate study, it was discovered that being mindful and calm, specifically practicing meditation, lead to an increase in the activity of the enzyme telomerase. This is responsible for repairing telomeres – the structures on the ends of chromosomes – which stops chromosomes from unraveling. This unraveling is what scientists believe is the cause of aging in the human body.
It is well documented that women tend to live longer than men, although the exact reasons for this are still hotly debated. A number of theories actually suggest that it is down to the fact that women are more likely to have a larger social circle than men, and Friedman and Martin found that friendliness is essential to longevity in life.
By having an approachable and friendly personality, you open yourself up to growing your social group. This in turn means that in hard times, you have a much larger support network which helps regulate stress levels, make you generally happier.
The secret to a long life
So, is it all about the years in your life or the life in your years? By making more of these traits habitual to you, you might just find that both increase, which gives you more time to spread your joy to the rest of the world.
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