Secret no.23 Determination

16580443996_8c5efb0e6aDetermination is the secret to a longer life, says 101-year-old Beatie Johnson – and her opinion is worthy of respect since Beatie must have needed lots of determination in a far-from-easy life.

Beatie’s mother had TB and spent a lot of time in hospital, tragically dying when Beatie was just nine. Beatie was separated from her younger sister and brought up by her grandparents. She went to work aged 14 and married a local lad, Geoff Obrey. But the Second World War intervened when a bomb blew the roof off their home (Beatie was pregnant at the time with their son, David, and only survived because she had taken cover in a garden shelter). Then Geoff was posted to the Far East, leaving Beatie alone to bring up their child. Tragically a second child, Clive, was born prematurely in 1944 and died four days later. Husband Geoff died in 1979, though Beattie married again to a childhood friend, Leslie Johnson.

Beatie now lives in a nursing home and its deputy manager, Michelle Pilgrim, says ‘Beatie is living proof that if you are determined you can achieve anything you want’.

But can a personality trait like determination help you live to 100?

Plausibility rating 8 out of 10: There’s a fair amount of research to suggest that personality does influence lifespan. Psychologists differentiate five personality traits – the Big Five*, as they are rather dramatically known. Of these, the trait that comes closest to determination is ‘conscientiousness’ – defined in this article as ‘self-discipline, achievement striving, reliability, and similar traits related to diligence’. And, would you know it, study after study links it to longer life. Even more importantly for our interest, this study found that the facets of conscientiousness most associated with longer lifespan were the qualities you and I would probably include in our definition of determination – ‘persistent, industrious, organised, disciplined’. Just one word of warning: when determination turns into obsession, perfectionism or compulsion be prepared for a shorter life, not a longer one.

Psychologists are less clear exactly why conscientiousness/determination might lead to longer life. Part of the answer may be in diligent adoption of healthier behaviours. But that doesn’t explain most of it so it’s been suggested that ”conscientious people are better able to anticipate and prepare for future consequences of potential adversities, more organized, and self-disciplined. These qualities could prevent stressful situations from escalating and could also enhance coping.”

Which sounds remarkably like Beatie, doesn’t it?

*The full Big Five are: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience. Of these, there’s some evidence that openness to experience is also linked to longer life. So too is extraversion, provided it doesn’t lead you to smoke.

photo credit: Ayn Rand – Who is going to stop me via photopin (license)

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