We have not yet found the elixir of long life. And it is likely that we will never do it because everything seems to indicate that the key to longevity is actually diluted in a series of small secrets that range from lifestyle to the characteristics of the environment in which we live.
However, some of the most extensive and reliable psychological research to date indicates that also our personality plays an important role in longevity. That is, our way of being can add or subtract years from our life. Take note!
Personality traits that add years to your life
One of the longest personality studies, conducted over 75 years with 300 couples who enrolled in their 20s, found that more conscientious, and efficient people tended to live longer.
This is likely because those who have developed this characteristic tend to carefully weigh the pros and cons when making decisions, so they expose themselves to fewer risks, which would help them live a longer life. Conscientiousness also goes hand in hand with discipline and self-control, which would help them follow healthier lifestyles and avoid giving in to bad habits and harmful impulses.
2. Mental openness
That same research revealed that older people were also more open-minded. In fact, conscientiousness is not synonymous with mental rigidity. Psychologists found that people who were more willing to listen to new ideas tended to live longer than those who rejected novelty.
This personological trait has been related to imagination, curiosity, creativity and the search for new stimuli. These people are willing to get out of their comfort zone and try new things. This mix of characteristics becomes a particularly powerful kind of “fuel” that adds energy, meaning and satisfaction to their lives, keeping them away from depression.
3. Emotional stability
While open-mindedness and conscientiousness were two particularly important indicators of longevity in men, in women the most relevant trait was emotional stability. That does not mean that to live longer we must “get rid” of emotions, but that we have to learn to manage them and use them to our advantage.
Older people are less reactive to stress, so they are also less vulnerable to its negative effects. They are not immune to negative emotional states, but they are able to snap out of them quickly, rather than getting stuck in rumination and worry, so bad moods don’t last long. In addition, they tend to see life from a more optimistic perspective, although that does not mean that they are naive optimists, but rather that they prefer to focus on the positive because they are aware that this attitude will help them more than sinking into pessimism.
4. Emotional expressiveness
That study also found that older people, ages 95 to 100, laughed frequently and expressed their emotions openly, rather than repressing them. These centenarians had a better mood and more sense of humor than average, but they were also able to express their emotions assertively.
It is not coincidental. Emotions are reflected in the body, so if we repress feelings such as anger, guilt or frustration, these can end up becoming somatized, causing or aggravating health problems that in the long run can take their toll and take years off our life. Therefore, it is understandable that the ability to express what we feel is a key factor in longevity.
The second most important trait related to a long life in women is kindness. That finding is also supported by more recent studies. In fact, research conducted at Yeshiva University with centenarians found that all of them were not only emotionally stable, but also enjoyed social relationships and had an optimistic view of human nature.
Interpersonal relationships can become an invaluable source of support during difficult times, acting as a kind of safety net to prevent us from hitting bottom emotionally. It should be noted that these people were not simply extraverted, but genuinely concerned about social harmony, which allowed them to get along well with others. People perceived them as kind, generous, helpful, trustworthy and willing to compromise, so they often responded in kind.
In short, to live longer it is not enough to follow healthy lifestyle habits; taking care of our mental health is also important. We must make sure to stay mentally active, open to new experiences, as well as take care of our relationships and pay attention to our emotional world. That’s another reason to not limit ourselves to aging, but to move forward in the calendar feeling good.
Kato, K. et. Al. (2012) Positive attitude towards life and emotional expression as personality phenotypes for centenarians. Aging; 4(5): 359–367.
Kelly, E. L. (1955) Consistency of the adult personality. American Psychologist; 10(11): 659–681.