Data gathered on more than 1,500 children who were about 10 years old when they were first studied in 1921 has been used to create the most comprehensive longitudinal evidence for how to live long and prosper. The findings have been published in "The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study".
The Longevity Project followed the children collecting information that included family histories and relationships, teacher and parent ratings of personality, hobbies, pet ownership, job success, education levels, military service and other details. Surprisingly, one of the findings was that people who were the most cheerful and had the best sense of humor as children lived shorter lives, on average, than those who were less cheerful and jokey. It was the most prudent and persistent individuals who stayed healthiest and lived the longest. According to the study happiness is not a root cause of good health. Instead, happiness and health go together because they have common roots.
The most amazing finding was that personality characteristics and social relations from childhood can predict one's risk of dying decades later. Many of the findings aren't what you might expect. For example:
- Marriage is good for men's health, but doesn’t matter for women.
- Being divorced is bad for men but much less harmful to women.
- "Don't work too hard, don't stress," isn't good advice for good health and long life.
- Starting formal schooling too early is a risk factor for earlier mortality.
- Having sufficient time for play and having friends at school is very important for children.
- Playing with pets is not associated with longer life. Pets may 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.
- 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.