Something startling is happening to aging.
90,000 Americans have reached the age of 100. Which means that you, too, may live that long. But how?
Publicity for a new book on longevity has brought a 2012 study back into the news. In that study, researchers from Yeshiva University looked at 250 people 98 to 102 years old. The goal was to find out what these long-lived people had in common.
Two factors popped out.
· Number one; Those who had lived to a hundred had a positive attitude toward life.
· Number two: the 100-year achievers were able to express their emotions in a healthy way. As the researchers put it, they didn’t “bottle emotions up.”
An NBC report on the Yeshiva study adds that the 100 year olds didn’t allow anger and resentments to destroy their relationships. They used emotional problems to build relationships.
Though the Yeshiva research doesn’t say it, hundreds of other studies demonstrate that strong relationships help keep you alive. And positive attitude and constructive use of your emotions are keys to strong relationships.
There’s more on positive attitude. Dr. Nil Barzilai, a co-author of the Yeshiva University study, said that those 100-year-olds who were positive tended to be optimistic, easygoing, and extroverted. And many who reached 100 viewed laughter as an important part of their lives.
In addition, those who lived to a hundred had two other secrets: they were high in conscientiousness and low in neuroticism. In other words, they didn’t dwell obsessively on the negative. And their conscientiousness made sure they got exercise.
But there’s a hitch. The Yeshiva researchers regarded positive attitude and emotional awareness as “genetically-based.” As “personality traits.”
Personality is something you can’t control. And you can control your positivity and emotional skill. I know.
My fields include cosmology, microbiology, and the science of mass behavior. So in 1976 I embarked on a scientific expedition into the dark underbelly where new myths and movements are made. I started a public relations company in a territory that I had known nothing about: rock and roll. And eventually I would help build or sustain legends like Michael Jackson, Prince, Bob Marley, Bette Midler, John Mellencamp, Billy Joel, Billy Idol, and Simon & Garfunkel.
But there was a problem. I had what the researchers called a neurotic personality. I had a totally negative outlook on myself.
When potential clients called and asked what I could do for them, all I could think of was my failures.
So I started a new practice. I put a three-by-five card on my desk next to the phone. A card on which I could write down my successes.
Remembering successes was a struggle. But every two weeks or so, one would pop into my mind. I wrote the success down quickly, before I could forget it. At the end of six months, I had a list of a dozen successes.
I kept those successes at my left hand next to the phone so that next time I got a call from a prospective client, I could rattle them off.
Slowly but surely I memorized the successes and learned to recite them like a parrot. And I continued to write new successes down.
That got me into a new habit: spotting successes every time they happened and adding them to my three-by-five card. And to my memory.
There were two results. In a year or so, I no longer needed the three-by-five card. My successes were inscribed in my brain. And I no longer had a tough time recognizing my successes. I was now in the habit of spotting them as soon as they happened and parking them up front in my mind.
In fact, when someone asked how I was and really wanted an answer, I got into the habit of reciting my list of recent successes.
In other words, a positive attitude was not a personality trait I was endowed with by genes. I was negative. But I’d accidentally made myself positive.
Now here’s the deal. I will reach the age of 80 in two weeks. And this learned positivity may be why I have the energy and zeal of a 40 year old.
The bottom line? Anything I can do, you can do better.
Kaori Kato, Richard Zweig, Nir Barzilai, and Gil Atzmon, Positive attitude towards life and emotional expression as personality phenotypes for centenarians, Aging (Albany NY). 2012 May; 4(5): 359–367. Published online 2012 May 21. doi: 10.18632/aging.100456, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384436/
Howard Bloom of the Howard Bloom Institute has been called the Einstein, Newton, and Freud of the 21st century by Britain’s Channel 4 TV. One of his seven books–Global Brain—was the subject of a symposium thrown by the Office of the Secretary of Defense including representatives from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Psychology Today, and the Scientific American. He does news commentary at 1:06 am Eastern Time every Wednesday night on 545 radio stations on Coast to Coast AM. For more, see http://howardbloom.institute.