Longevity Project Ch 4 & 5

Chapter 4 explores how cheerfulness and optimism relate to longevity. Surprisingly, being cheerful is not corellated with living longer and the more sober Terman participants tended to outlive their optimistic counterparts. There are various explanations for this; humor can be used to cover a traumatic past, cheerful children tend to drink and smoke more later in life, and cheerful individuals are more likely to have risky hobbies. As well, illusory optismism occurs when an individual overlooks and ignores real threats, creating problems in the long run. An interesting finding in this chapter was gender differences in worrying and longevity; women that were worriers in young adulthood tended to die earlier, particularly if they were not conscientious, while worried young men died later, especially if they were neurotic. Overall, the takeaway from the chapter was that happiness does not cause good health, but the two are associated, as lifestyles and behaviors that make individuals happy also benefit physical health. This chapter relates to my experiences because I am optimistic and scored low on the neuroticism scale, but still think of myself as conscientious; I believe in my self-efficacy and enjoy life but also worry about real threats and take precautions. As well, my cheerfulness does not lead to risky behaviors and does not stem from a traumatic past. In this way, I am hopeful that I will reap the longevity benefits from being a balance of optimistic and conscientious.

Chapter 5 centers on the relationship between catastrophic thinking and longevity. As seen in the Terman project, individuals with a catastrophic explanatory style die earlier than their counterparts. This is partly due to suicidal tendencies of catastrophizers, as seen with Douglas Kelly who likely took his own life after catastrophic internalization of his work with Nazi leaders. Chapter 5 also explores variables associated with suicide such physical health, stress, and mental health, with combinations of the three particularly important in predicting suicide. Another interesting finding described in the chapter is the work of Dr. Schneidman, a suicidologist able to rank the suicide risk of Terman men based on levels of perturbation (agitation and lack of composure) and lethality (features of life that reflect intentions about death). The chapter also explores longevity and regrets; Terman participants that lived to old age regretted actions they did not take but vocalized positive thoughts and were content with their lives. Finally, the authors explain the negative relationship between conscientiousness and catastrophizing and affirm the feasibility of changing catastrophic and negative thoughts. This chapter relates to me as my sister catastrophizes and sees hardships as calamities, a problematic worldview that makes it challenging for her to recover from setbacks. However, as described in the chapter, through cognitive therapy and an increase in rational thinking, it would be possible for her to change her thinking and behavior. This chapter also makes me hopeful about my future because I am not catastrophic and am conscientious, both of which support longevity.

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One Response to Longevity Project Ch 4 & 5

  1. Elizabeth Doll says:


    Nice summary of the chapters. I also noticed–and wasn’t happy to hear–the stark difference that they found between neuroticism/worrying in both genders. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that worrying is so much more harmful for women than it is for men. There has to be some sort of social/cultural difference in the cause of worry, or some difference in how worrying affects women physiologically. Either way, sounds like you don’t have to worry about that one as much since you’re conscientious and also pretty laidback!

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