What is the secret to a long life?
Eat less bacon.
Exercise every day.
Stay out of the sun.
Drink in moderation.
All of those choices certainly matter when it comes to living a long and healthy life. But, research also suggests that there is one factor that is just as an important predictor of longevity as anything listed above—Your personality type.
In 1921, around the time that William Marston first created DISC theory, a psychologist from Stanford University named Lewis Terman began a study of 1500 children intended to measure the connection between lifestyle, personality, behavior, and life span. He and his team of researchers took meticulous notes on the lives of these 1500 children over the span of a staggering 8 decades, examining how they lived, died, and what caused their deaths. Using research, observation, and self-assessments completed by the subjects of the study, they concluded that many of our assumptions on how to live a long life aren’t as accurate as we might have thought. In the end, data revealed that there was one major thing that the subjects who lived long into old age had in common—personality type.
Specifically, the major predictor of longevity, according to the study, is conscientiousness. This means planning, foresight, and caution are the most valued personality traits when it comes to leading a long life—All traits that C personality types are very familiar with.
In their 2012 book The Longevity Project, UC Riverside health researchers Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin took a close look at the data from the study, and summed up the connections between conscientiousness and long life like this:
“The best childhood predictor of longevity was conscientiousness—the qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person—somewhat obsessive and not at all carefree. Certain other factors were also relevant, but the prudent, dependable children lived longest. The strength of this finding was unexpected, but it proved to be a very important and enduring one.
"[From looking at the lives of the test subjects] The most cheerful, optimistic kids grew up to take more risks. By virtue of expecting good things to happen and feeling like nothing bad ever would, they predisposed themselves to be heavier drinkers, they tended to be smokers, and their hobbies were riskier."
So, they conclude, "some degree of worrying actually is good." And, in fact, adds Friedman, "the prudent, persistent, planful people — both in childhood ... and then in young adulthood— that was the strongest individual difference, or personality predictor, of long life."
But the D and I personality types out there are probably saying, Sure…C personalities might live a long life. But they’re boring. Interestingly, Martin and Friedman believe that’s a myth as well. They said, "Because of those [conscientious and careful] qualities, [C personalities] tended to get nice opportunities in life, and so they went on to live some of the most exciting and interesting lives of anyone in the study."
As Martin and Friedman see it, the study reveals three major reasons why conscientiousness (type C) people may live longer:
Conscientious people follow the rules. Lots of rules are created with the intention of protecting a person’s health--- Riding a motorcycle with a helmet, always buckling your seatbelt, crossing at crosswalks.
Conscientious people have done their research on risks, and tend not to pick up dangerous habits (like smoking).
Conscientious people take their time in making major choices. Everything from choosing a spouse to taking on a career path are decisions that are entered into with great caution. This, say Martin and Friedman, often leads them into “healthier situations and relationships.”
This, of course, doesn’t have to mean bad news for D, I and S personality types. Through organization, attention to detail, reliability, order, and self-discipline, you can nurture your inner C. The cautious, contemplative approach of a C personality might night come naturally to you, but trying a few C-style traits on for size couldn’t hurt, It might even add years to your life.
What do you think of The Longevity Project and Terman’s Stanford study? Could there be truth in what they’re saying, or do you have another take on it? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.