What Traits of the Elderly Can Teach Us About Mental Health and Longevity

What Traits of the Elderly Can Teach Us About Mental Health and Longevity

What if someone told you that stubbornness promotes longevity, and that our stubborn parents and grandparents, who seem happy to be set in their ways, are going to benefit from their stubbornness by living longer with better mental health?

A study, published in 2017, was conducted of 29 people, between the ages of 90 and 101, who live in different Italian villages. This group of participants is small, but the results are impacting the way scientists and psychologists think about longevity and mental health in old age.

The results of the study, published by Cambridge Core, indicate that certain psychological traits, amongst them: stubbornness, optimism, a strong work ethic and commitment to one’s family, are correlated with longevity. These traits are especially prominent in the elderly Italians, and it has also benefited their mental and emotional health.

To get this qualitative data, a psychologist interviewed each participant in the study, asking about their life histories, personalities, culture, experiences, trauma and religion. The psychologist also interviewed the participants’ younger family members, to help determine the elderly participants’ traits, but also to compare the states of mental health between the age groups.

The article in Medical News Today describes that the elderly group had noticeably better mental health compared to their younger relatives, and the study “identified some common characteristics associated with better mental well-being in the elderly adults. These included positivity, a good work ethic, a strong bond with their family, and strong connections with religion and their land,” wrote the author, Honor Whiteman.

The researchers noted that self-confidence, strong decision-making skills, and stubbornness are additional common traits among the elderly adults. The researchers believe that not only do these traits create good mental health in old age, but also promote longevity.

Studies such as this one will continue in hopes of identifying “…biological as well as behavioral interventions to enhance positive traits in younger individuals too, thus promoting not only longevity but also health, well-being, and happiness in later life.”

The traits of a strong work ethic, good decision making skills, self-confidence, strong family connections, and optimism are often associated with people who are self-reliant and successful. Most of these tendencies suggest a stubbornness and determination that has kept them focused, so maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised that stubbornness has been a “supportive” tool for good mental health and longevity.

Though the traits the researchers identified (like stubbornness, confidence, optimism and strong decision making skills) are naturally inherent, there are some things you can do to encourage them in yourself. The following articles include suggestions for those you who are interested in learning more.

8 Psychological Tips for Being More Confident. This article encourages people to try a number of different things in their efforts to become more confident, such as:

  • Facing a fear
  • Befriending failure
  • Stop listening to your doubts
  • Affirming your strengths, talents, and accomplishments
  • Setting a realistic goal and achieving it
  • Making a difference in your community

 
How Can I Be More Confident. This article describes what it means to be confident in a way that will help you be at peace with who you are, stop comparing yourself to others, and encourages better mental health.

To encourage optimism, the author of Becoming an Optimist, has several suggestions for encouraging optimism. Below are some tips if you want to work on becoming more optimistic:

Noticing and tracking your negative thinking
Upon thinking negatively, force yourself to think a positive thought, even if it doesn’t feel true
Try to model your thinking after someone you know who is positive, ask yourself what they would do or think if you find yourself becoming negative in a situation
Give others positive feedback and give yourself positive feedback for your accomplishments

If you or someone you know is struggling with issues related to aging – depression, anxiety, grief – please contact a therapist at Family & Child Development. We will be happy to work with you to create a healthier mindset.