#062 The Four Personality Secrets of Centenarians

The Four Personality Secrets of Centenarians

Do You Have the Right Personality to Live to 100?

Only one in every 4,400 people in the US lives to be 100 years old. For many of us, thriving to 100 sounds like almost an unattainable goal, but I’m here to tell you that that’s actually not the case. In fact, there are plenty of ways you can work towards having “a healthy personality” that will help to keep your health intact well into old age.

While most people assume that living to 100 years old must be determined by “lucky” genes, there are plenty of studies that demonstrate the opposite to be true. Take the landmark study that looked at 2,872 Danish Twins born from 1870 to 1900; this study showed us that only 25% of our longevity is determined by genes.

This means that the vast majority, 75%, of our longevity is up to the lifestyle choices we make. Of course our lifestyle is affected by the personality that we choose to put forward into the world each day, because our personality establishes our priorities, stress levels, mindset, relationships, and more. So how do you develop the right personality traits to keep time on your side?

The Four Personality Secrets of Centenarians

According to research from four large centenarian studies (Georgia Centenarian Study, Jewish Centenarian Study, Tokyo Centenarian Study, Swedish Centenarian Study) there are four key personality traits that are common among those who are able to thrive until reaching the 100 year mark. These four traits are as follows:

1. Easygoing

2. Optimistic

3. Love to Laugh

4. Outgoing

These traits are believed to be partly due to genes, but also highly influenced by everyday actions and choices in life that can positively shape your personality.

Assessing Your Own Personality

How do you know if you have the right personality to thrive to the age of 100?  I have taken several online longevity tests using calculators like the ones found on this website. This is where you will find “The Living to 100 Calculator,” put together by researcher Dr. Thomas Perls. Another website I used and recommend is the “Blue Zone Longevity Calculator.”  These free online assessments will give you a rough idea of your projected longevity and where you can improve.

How Does My Personality Stack Up?

According to the results of calculations produced by these sites, I am predicted to live to 96 and 97 years old, respectively. While that’s a very admirable number, these online assessments show that I may not have the perfect personality to make it to 100.

Why am I coming up short, according to these calculations?

For starters, I am not necessarily an easygoing person and I could probably afford to laugh more often. I tend to be very “driven” to the point where it may be a fault of mine. In high school I was very easy going, loved to laugh, and did not seem to have a care in the world.

Perhaps it was the stress and focus required to get me into medical school that started to change the way I reacted to the world. And of course the incredible stress of an extremely high work load once I got into Johns Hopkins Medical School, or even my internship, residency, and fellowships at Stanford University, all likely contributed to “changing” me as well.

Knowing that the four personality traits I listed above are the ideal to strive for based on centenarian studies, I am making improvements wherever I can and taking note of what’s working.

My children are teaching me to laugh more.  For example, they love to play board games, so I am learning to slow down and play board games with them.  They also love comedies and encourage me to watch some with them.

I do have something in my favor.  Fortunately, I am an extremely optimistic person. I believe that things always seem to work out for the better over time, so I often can avoid unnecessary anxiety and worries by keeping this in mind.

While it appears otherwise, I am not naturally outgoing. If I am not expected to be “outgoing” in a social situation, my natural tendency is to be shy. What has helped me overcome this, to some degree, is that I’ve read in studies that 90% of people experience general shyness, so I feel less alone. Since 90% of us feel “shy” and hope that someone else will reach out to us, I choose to play the outgoing role and to reach out and connect with others.

Perhaps if I work on these personality traits more, I too just might live to 100?

How do these personality traits allow us to live longer?

Let’s take a closer look at how these personality traits favor living to be 100 years old:

1. Being Easygoing

Studies have shown that, not surprisingly, easygoing people have lower levels of anxiety.  As you probably know, stress and anxiety really age us. According to certain studies, people with high levels of perceived stress are actually able to age their telomeres 10 years compared to those who regularly experienced less stress. Telomeres are the caps of our DNA that protect DNA from damage, so when they become shortened due to ongoing anxiety, we are prone to chronic disease and an earlier death. Therefore being more laid back is associated with healthier DNA and a better chance of longevity.

2. Being Optimistic

Studies show that optimists live longer than pessimists. Optimists are more likely to eat right and to regularly exercise, as they believe that they will be around for longer and ought to take care of themselves. Some studies have shown that optimists live up to 8 years longer.

3. Laughing Often

According to studies, laughter has many health benefits. Research concludes that “laughter has shown physiological, psychological, social, spiritual, and quality-of-life benefits.”  Additionally, there is evidence that people who regularly laugh are at a lower risk of having a heart attack according to certain studies. Who knew that simply laughing more could solve so many problems?

4. Being Outgoing

People who are outgoing are more able to make friends and therefore to form meaningful relationships, which is very important in keeping your mood elevated and stress levels lower. One study even reported that outgoing people are happier in general than those who are more shy.

Eight Strategies to Develop the Right Personality to Thrive to 100

How can you work on adopting these personality traits more in order to live a long and healthy life?  Let me share with you the eight things I am working on right now to make it to 100.

1. The 10 Year Perspective (to be more easygoing)

I try to approach each challenge I face with a 10 year perspective in mind.  I ask myself, will this really matter 10 years from now?  If the answer is “no”, then I do my best to let it go.

2. Eliminate the Clutter (to be more easygoing)

My biggest struggle is that I take on too many things thus creating too much “clutter” in my life. The book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (affiliate link) has had a profound effect on me.  Both Jane and I have read it and it has changed our lives.

We are learning to say no to many good, but non-essential, things in life. It is important to realize that when we say “yes” to something we are really saying “no” to something else in our lives.

As we have started to do less, it has actually allowed us to be more easygoing and feel less stressed. It makes sense if you think about it.  The less things you have “on your plate” the less overwhelmed or frazzled you feel.

3. Five Minute Gratitude Journal (to maintain optimism)

Studies show that consciously practicing gratitude is linked with better well-being, less stress, and likely the ability to become more optimistic too. To make an effort to “practice” gratitude in my life more often, I have started doing a “5 Minute Gratitude Journal” on most days of the week.

As I journal what I am grateful for each day, it makes me more optimistic about what the future holds. If I’m having a bad week, practicing being grateful for what I do currently have- the things that are going right– reinforces the idea that there will better times to come.

4. Daily Physical Activity (to maintain optimism)

Moving more throughout the day often results in a better overall mood and sleeping better at night too.  I have found that if I can get in some form of exercise during the day, and then get a good night’s sleep as a consequence, the world looks a lot better.

Studies show that exercise is correlated with increased levels of happiness and reduced stress. Exercise boosts “feel good” hormones and endorphins in our brain, like serotonin and dopamine. These improve our sense of well-being, help to relax us, and give us a sense of accomplishment and personal power.

For even more tips on being more optimistic check out my article, How to Be An Optimist and Live Eight Years Longer.

 5. Spend More Time with Children (to laugh more)

As mentioned, I don’t naturally find myself laughing very much.  I used to laugh a whole lot when I was younger, but along the way I just got too serious as I became older and more focused. The best thing for me to do in order to boost my laugher is to spend more time with my children in “silly play”.

6. Watch Comedies (to laugh more)

My children love their comedies, and like most people, they laugh very often. Their favorite show right now is Studio C, which is clean, family humor. I am now learning to enjoy them with my kids.

How can you learn to laugh more? Ask yourself what kinds of situations bring laugher out in you naturally, and make an effort to do those activates more. Maybe it’s watching favorite funny movies, playing with children, or even playing with your pet that brings out the laughter in you.

7. Remember 90% of People Feel Shy Too (to be more outgoing)

Like I mentioned earlier, about 90% of people report feeling shy.  I use this to my advantage by keeping in mind that I am not alone in my natural tendency towards shyness, and that it is not “just me.”  This helps me to reach out to others in social situations because instead of feeling self-conscious, I tell myself that I am stepping up to the plate and taking the first step towards making a meaningful connection.

8. Make a New Friend Each Day (to be more outgoing)

I try to consciously make a new friend each day if I can. While this is often not possible, having this as a goal changes my outlook on life.

Every time you go somewhere, try to consider it an opportunity to meet someone new and interesting. Really listen to what others are saying, see if you find a connection to your own life, and do what you can to make a new “friend”.

Another great way to meet new friends is to volunteer. This will put you in touch with other like-minded people who share the same values as you, and can also boost your happiness according to studies.

Take a close look at your own life and personality.  What can you do to be more like the centenarians that share these four personality characteristics?  If you can find ways to be more easygoing, optimistic, laugh more, and be more outgoing then you just may be able to thrive to 100 as well.

What personalities are you working on right now?

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Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.

2 Comments
  1. Dr Day, thank you for your post!
    Although I’m not concerned with living to be 100, the 8 strategies you’ve outlined have inspired me to bring the very same goals into my everyday activities so that regardless how long I live it will be an enjoyable journey not only for myself but for all that I connect with everyday, anyday.

    You just don’t know if this minute is the last one that is left…