We tend to think of successful people – even the ones who inherit their status – as being born with grit.
Traits like that, we’re told, will drive us to early prosperity and set us up for happiness later on.
A new study of more than 8,000 men and women over 50 suggests that’s probably not true. Instead, traits like grit and optimism can be learned, and they keep playing an important role in our health and happiness long after we land our first job, the study found.
The findings of the new paper are bolstered by decades of previous research linking well-being and longevity to characteristics like optimism. Read on to see which ones you possess.
Unsplash / Joshua Earle
In the most recent study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers linked conscientiousness, or being thorough and efficient but less likely to take risks, with increased well-being and happiness, along with 4 other traits. Of the more than 8,000 participants in the study, only 23% were defined as conscientious.
Other research ties conscientiousness with well-being. A 75-year analysis of 300 couples who enrolled in the study in their mid-20s while engaged found that men whom their friends identified as conscientious tended to live longer than those who were not seen as possessing the trait. Another long-term study came to similar conclusions, but this time about men and women. Members of both gender who were seen as conscientious lived longer, on average, than their non-conscientious peers.
To measure optimism in the most recent study, researchers asked participants to rank how much they agreed with the following two statements: 1) “I feel that life is full of opportunities,” and 2) “I feel that the future looks good for me.” Using those measures, roughly a quarter of participants were identified as optimistic.
In the past, researchers have noted links between optimism and good health, even when accounting for differences in people’s socioeconomic status. A recent German study of roughly 2,500 people found that psychological resources like optimistic personal beliefs positively affected participants’ health across incomes and education levels.
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Under 21% of the people in the most recent study were identified as having grit or being determined, making it the rarest out of the 5 life skills outlined in the study.