... The Longevity Project, as the study became known, 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 Friedman and Martin began their research in 1991, they planned to spend six months examining predictors of health and longevity among the Terman participants.
But the project continued over the next two decades – funded in part by the National Institute on Aging – and the team eventually involved more than 100 graduate and undergraduate students who tracked down death certificates, evaluated interviews, and analyzed tens of thousands of pages of information about the Terman participants through the years.
"We came to a new understanding about happiness and health," said Martin, now a psychology professor at La Sierra University in Riverside. "One of the findings that really astounds people, including us, is that the Longevity Project 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."
via UCR Newsroom: Keys to Long Life.
Wow. This is great. I work too hard, I persist, I stress, I'm involved in helping others and I don't laugh much, so I'll outlive a lot of people my age ... and I'll have the last laugh. Looks like I need to get married, however ... once and never get divorced. Sounds tricky. What about marriage do you suppose makes men live longer? If it is the part about being nagged, I'll take the shorter life.
Many of the UCR findings fly in the face of conventional wisdom. For example:
• Marriage may be good for men's health, but doesn’t really matter for women. Steadily married men – those who remained in long-term marriages – were likely to live to age 70 and beyond; fewer than one-third of divorced men were likely to live to 70; and men who never married outlived those who remarried and significantly outlived those who divorced – but they did not live as long as married men.
• Being divorced is much less harmful to women’s health. Women who divorced and did not remarry lived nearly as long as those who were steadily married.
• "Don't work too hard, don't stress," doesn't work as advice for good health and long life. Terman subjects who were the most involved and committed to their jobs did the best. Continually productive men and women lived much longer than their more laid-back comrades.
• Starting formal schooling too early – being in first grade before age 6 – is a risk factor for earlier mortality. Having sufficient playtime and being able to relate to classmates is very important for children.
• Playing with pets is not associated with longer life. Pets may sometimes improve well-being, but they are not a substitute for friends.
• Combat veterans are less likely to live long lives, but surprisingly the psychological stress of war itself is not necessarily a major health threat. Rather, it is a cascade of unhealthy patterns that sometimes follows. Those who find meaning in a traumatic experience and are able to reestablish a sense of security about the world are usually the ones who return to a healthy pathway.
• People who feel loved and cared for report a better sense of well-being, but it doesn't help them live longer. The clearest health benefit of social relationships comes from being involved with and helping others. The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become – healthy or unhealthy.
It's never too late to choose a healthier path, Friedman and Martin said. The first step is to throw away the lists and stop worrying about worrying. ...
Here is some more hard work I did on finding further details from this research:
Conscientiousness in childhood was clearly related to survival in middle to old age. This finding (a) establishes that childhood personality is related to survival decades into the future, (b) confirms the validity of the conscientiousness dimension in conceptualizing personality, and (c) points to likely and unlikely pathways linking personality to health. Contrary to expectation, cheerfulness (optimism and sense of humor) was inversely related to longevity, suggesting a possible need for reconceptualization of its health relevance.
Previous research showed that conscientiousness (social dependability) in childhood predicted longevity in an archival prospective cohort study of bright children first studied by Terman in the 1920s (H. S. Friedman et al., 1993). Possible behavioral mechanisms for this robust association are now examined by gathering cause of death information and by considering the possible mediating influences of drinking alcohol, smoking, and overeating. Survival analyses (N = 1,215) suggest that the protective effect of conscientiousness is not primarily due to accident avoidance and cannot be mostly explained by abstinence from unhealthy substance intake. Conscientiousness may have more wide-ranging effects on health-relevant activities.
Children from divorced families grew up to show a higher risk of premature mortality across the life span. The higher mortality risk for men was explained, in part, when 3 mediating factors were controlled: Men who had experienced parental divorce were more likely to have their own marriages end in divorce, obtained less education, and engaged in fewer service activities. Women who had experienced parental divorce smoked more and were more likely themselves to divorce, both of which predicted higher mortality risk.
Catastrophizing (attributing bad events to global causes) predicted mortality as of 1991, especially among males, and predicted accidental or violent deaths especially well. These results are the first to show that a dimension of explanatory style is a risk factor for mortality in a large sample of initially healthy individuals, and they imply that one of the mechanisms linking explanatory style and death involves lifestyle.