I was drawn to this book because of its significant eight-decade study, the longest of its kind.
In 1921, a Stanford University psychologist, Lewis Terman selected approximately 1,500 intelligent boys and girls to take part in a study. Dr. Terman was interested in the origins of leadership potential and he wanted to see if he could identify these factors early on in life. The children were around 11 at the time and quite a few were still alive and in their 90's, eight decades later. Dr. Terman, himself, died in 1956, in his mid-70's, but the work was carried on by others and then finally picked up by the two above-named authors.
Who participated in this study and the data that was collected from these individuals was kept strictly confidential but some of the members did choose to step forward later on in life and proudly proclaim their involvement with it. Jess Oppenheimer, creator of I Love Lucy and Get Smart was one of the most recognizable.
Dr. Terman's investigative methods were careful and deliberate and remain relevant to this day. Not much has changed at all since the beginning of this study in 1921. While he began by looking for indicators of future success, the study broadened to include the key ingredients to a long, healthy and happy life. Some of the original group had committed suicide by mid-life, some died in their sixties or seventies. A couple of them, I believe, made it to 100. What upbringing challenges, traumatic events, or environmental differences were responsible for these various end results?
It turns out that indicators of longevity in childhood continue to be accurate even in adulthood. The #1 predictor was the biggest surprise of the study. Was it exercise, nutrition, education or an easy, stress-free environment? In our American tradition of feeling that if some is good, then more must be even better, you may be tempted to run a marathon or suddenly and maniacally eat broccoli at every meal, but this will not add years to your life.
While no one should argue with the benefits of any of these individually, they turn out not to be answer we're looking for. Conscientiousness is the real predictor according to the authors.
"The young adults who were thrifty, persistent, detail oriented and responsible lived the longest."
What you must do is follow your own path in life and always make a concerted effort to rebound from painful or difficult life-altering situations.
In 1986, a questionnaire was given to those participants of the study that were still alive. Overwhelmingly, the results showed that it wasn't so much about what had gone wrong in these people's lives that mattered the most. For the most part, they were happy. It was only the lost opportunities they regretted.
Let that be our take away from this study. We should actively pursue our passions while we still have the time to do it. That, alone, is enough to keep us young.