Early in his career, Harburg determined that one element was essential for anger to exist. There has to be a sense of unfairness, a false accusation for example and there has to be a sense of personal loss, like respect or self-esteem.
But by any definition, anger that is allowed to fester will "reinforce the morbid conditions in your body, and after 50 everybody's got at least one, like elevated blood pressure, bronchial difficulties, and so forth," Harburg said. "The combination will lead to earlier mortality."
The study reaches a wide range of conclusions, all of which are labeled preliminary because the study is ongoing and the numbers are still small because most of the participants are still alive. Here are a few of the findings:
Incidentally, there have been very few divorces among the older couples of Tecumseh.
"They were into the old, classic marital style of staying together," Harburg mused.
Harburg admits to having a powerful temper as a young man. Over the years he has learned to deal with his anger, "but my wife and four sons don't believe it."
One of the things that comes with old age, he added, is a little mellowing. But his research suggests that if you want to reach that mellow stage, you shouldn't let the anger burn inside you.
Lee Dye is a former science writer for the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in Juneau, Alaska.