March 9, 2011— -- It's long been said that always looking on the bright side and not working too hard will lead to a long and happy life, but a new study blows both of those shibboleths out of the water.
Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin, psychologists at the University of California at Riverside who specialize in aging, spent the past 20 years analyzing the findings of social scientist Lewis Terman.
Terman launched the famous personality and behavioral study of 1,500 children in 1921 that recorded each participant's progression through life. It created a treasure trove of data, which Friedman and Martin mined for clues as to what behaviors and practices could mean a longer life.
They recently published their findings in a new book, "The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study."
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"We really wanted to ask the big questions," Friedman said. "What happens across long periods of time, and how do all those things go step by step to keep some people healthy and make some people ill."
Their findings produced several surprising results.
"You always hear don't worry, don't worry you'll make yourself sick," Friedman said. "But we didn't find that at all."
"What we have found is that a moderate amount of worry is not a bad thing and particularly for men," said Martin. "And men facing crisis, like the death of a spouse, those were the men who seemed to step it up and sort of channel that worry into better self-care and sort of took care of the things that the wife would have taken care of beforehand."
Another surprise they found was that people who were consistently too cheerful or too optimistic didn't live as long as their worrywart counterparts.
"When we first started this study, we thought, well, maybe these really cheery kids will go on to live long lives," Friedman said. "It turns out they didn't."
"To come to every decision with an attitude that it is going to be fine and you think nothing bad will ever happen, that pushes you in a particular direction," Martin said. "You know, I won't wear my seatbelt, sure I will have another drink. I will have another doughnut. It is a bad approach if you approach everything like that."