A recently published book entitled, The Longevity Project puts the lie to conventional wisdom about the keys to a long and healthy life. Authors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin, picked up on an original study that began in 1921 with 1,528 San Francisco 11-year-olds and analyzed what personality traits and lifestyle choices made some members of the original cohort far outlive their peers.
Guess what? Things such as optimism, happiness, a good marriage and the ability to handle stress didn’t rate very highly. Instead, the “…best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness. The qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person wins out every time.” And, that has to be very bad news for those of you who double and triple book meetings and/or maintain sloppy cubicles.
he exhaustive study also confirmed what I’d always read and believed: “Genes constitute about one-third of the factors leading to a long life. The other two-thirds have to do with lifestyle and chance.”
When one looks beneath the surface, it’s easy to see why prudence and persistence are so important to longevity say the authors. Conscientious people are more likely to live healthy lifestyles, to not smoke or drink to excess, wear seat belts and follow doctors’ orders. Prudent and persistent people also tend to find themselves in healthier, happier workplaces and personal relationships. They also understand the importance of stress. “There’s a misconception about stress,” says Dr., Friedman. “People think everyone should take it easy. Rather, he says, “a hard job that is also stressful, but which enables people to eventually succeed, leads to a longer life.” So much for retiring to Del Boca Vista and playing golf every day.
One finding really struck home with me. Optimism has a huge downside. “If you’re cheerful, very optimistic, especially in the face of illness and recovery, if you don’t consider the possibility that you might have setbacks, than those setbacks are harder to deal with.” says Dr. Martin. “If you’re one of those people who think everything’s fine–the stress of failure, because you haven’t been more careful, is harmful. You almost set yourself up for more problems.”
I may die tomorrow, but I have to say The longevity Project made me smile for a number of reasons. First, because by recognizing that I was working in a toxic environment in the mid-1990s, I walked away from it and, along with Ed, created a workplace I knew I’d enjoy. Second, and this sentence is aimed directly at our firm’s management committee, I have always considered myself a ‘realist’ when it comes to such things as new business presentations, employee issues, economic downturns or other fundamental challenges. As a result, I never expect to win a big, new piece of business, retain an important employee who’s being wooed away by a competitor or change the mindset of a clique within Peppercom who take exception to a particular management decision. My peers call me a pessimist. Rather, I’m doing exactly what the authors suggest is a key ingredient to longevity: I’m not setting myself up for more problems by being overly optimistic.
Anyway, that’s my take on The Longevity Project. What’s yours? Sorry, but I’ve got to run. I have another 40 years to live.