Many people worry a lot, but do you worry too little? As it turns out, the “don’t worry, be happy” people tend to die earlier. Conscientious people live longer.
In looking at a group of people that were followed for 80 years, this is the conclusion drawn from the data by Leslie Martin and Howard Friedman, two psychology professors, and discussed in an article in The Atlantic and detailed in their book, The Longevity Project.
There are three reasons conscientious people tend to stay healthier and live longer.
- Conscientious people do more things to protect their health. They engage in fewer risky activities like smoking, drinking to excess, abusing drugs, or driving too fast.
- Some people actually seem to be biologically predisposed both to have that personality trait and to be healthier. It appears likely that conscientious and unconscientious people have different levels of certain chemicals in their brains, including serotonin, which may be involved.
- Having a conscientious personality leads people into healthier situations and relationships.
When you care enough to make sure you’re doing the right things – especially as it pertains to health – you’re more likely to live longer. Overly optimistic people have a tendency to ignore details, meaning they don’t follow doctor’s orders correctly or lead themselves into unhealthy situations or addictions.
You can’t think yourself thin or wish yourself wealthy, despite claims from silly, infantile self-help books like “The Secret.” The path to health and vitality is the same as it has always been. It’s taking care of your shiny new body.
It Loses Value as Soon as You Drive it Off the Lot
When you get a new car, new house – new anything – it comes with an owner’s manual that provides instructions for how to care for it. If you ignore the information in there, your car or house will fall apart much faster. And it’s no different from your body. We start out new, but quickly accumulate the scratches, dents, and dings from using our bodies.
The owner’s manual for the human body details how we need to have something to strive for – something for our will to push against. If we strive to be more fit and capable, we have ambition for a better experience in our own bodies. And this leads to choices and behaviors that line up with healthier, longer lives. Like eating the right foods and engaging in a host of health-promoting behaviors.
Wishful, But Not Thinking
I was once exercising on a step-mill next to someone who was leaning over using terrible posture as the only way to keep up with the high intensity setting they were using. When I offered a better posture to use while on the machine, the reply I got was, “I’ve always felt that if you do things from a positive spirit that everything will work out well.” This shockingly naïve, child-like approach to life won’t just injure you, it could cost you your life.
Ignore reality with magical, overly positive thinking at your peril. This does not mean I’m recommending you use worry as the antidote to ignorance either. Fretting about the way things are is just as bad as pretending things aren’t the way they are.
It’s about being conscientious enough. Enough to give the right level of attention to what matters. Not freaking out about everything nor blissfully/ignorantly assuming everything will be ok because you wish it to be. It’s about showing up in the moment to your own life. The successes, the difficulties, and everything in between.