US and Italian researchers have found that a group of Italian nonagenarians shared many common psychological traits – including a “stubborn” personality and a positive outlook on life.
Unlike most longevity studies that focus on genetics, they looked at the mental and physical health of a group of Italians aged 90 to 101 in Cilento in southern Italy – an area known for its high proportion of people aged over 90 – and their younger relatives aged 51 to 75.
Participants all shared a strong work ethic, with most still working either at home or on their land which gave them purpose in life.
And while the younger adults labelled their older relatives as “controlling” and “stubborn”, they had close relationships with their family and friends who provided a strong support network.
“(When) you surround yourself with people you like, it’s like ‘Cheers’ – you go where everybody knows your name. That makes you feel at home,” lead author and head of the University of San Diego Center of Healthy Aging Dr Dilip Jeste said.
Getting older not all doom and gloom
Interestingly, the researchers also discovered that while the oldest participants had poorer physical health compared to their younger family members, they had high levels of happiness and satisfaction with life and lower rates of depression and stress – something they attribute to their longevity.
“There is no one way to get to 90 or 100, and I don’t think it requires a radical change in personality, but this shows that there are certain attributes that are very important, including resilience, strong social support and engagement, and having confidence in yourself,” Dr Jeste adds.
As one participant said: “I am always thinking for the best. There is always a solution in life. This is what my father has taught me: to always face difficulties and hope for the best.”
A reason to always look on the bright side?