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The No. 1 Personality Trait Linked to a Long Life: “The Effects of Simply Being Positive Are Overstated,” Says Psychology Expert

The No. 1 Personality Trait Linked to a Long Life: “The Effects of Simply Being Positive Are Overstated,” Says Psychology Expert


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The number of people living to age 100 in the United States has doubled in the last decade.

Many centenarians attribute their longevity, at least in part, to their positive attitude.

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Roslyn Menaker, 103, told The Guardian that “happiness, joy, appreciation… a positive attitude” is the reason she has lived so long. Ruth Sweedler, 103, told CNBC Make It that she was always praised for her good attitude while she was growing up. “When she walked into a classroom, my teacher would say, ‘Good morning, sunshine!’ Because she was very happy,” she said.

While older people may feel that being positive has influenced their longevity, the relationship between personality and aging is more nuanced, says David Watson, former professor of personality psychology at the University of Notre Dame.

“I think the effects of just being positive are overstated,” he says. But there are other traits that he believes are closely related to longevity.

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When analyzing personality, it is useful to look at the five-factor model, a theory of personality that suggests that most people’s traits can be grouped into five categories: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Conscientiousness, or how organized and disciplined you are, is most closely linked to longevity, Watson says.

This is probably because people high in conscientiousness are better at taking care of themselves. Conscientious people, for example, tend to drink alcohol in moderation and eat more balanced meals, she says.

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“Conscientious people don’t do stupid things, so they have lower accident rates and better health behaviors,” he says.

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The good news is that you can increase your conscientiousness with age. There are even mindfulness workshops that seek to increase a person’s ability to self-regulate, Watson says.

“The basic idea is that if you want to increase your conscientiousness, you act more conscientiously and attitude follows behavior,” he says. “Try to be on time for things. Keep track of things.”

This doesn’t mean that a positive attitude is useless, he adds.

Kindness can also influence longevity, especially when it comes to dealing with stressful situations.

“Psychologically healthy people recover faster,” he says. “They’re able to say to themselves, ‘This is no big deal.'” “They find ways to get back into that balance.”

If you live a healthy lifestyle and are able to bounce back from hardships, that, Watson says, could lead to a longer, more fulfilling life.

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