The Longevity Project

Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study, by Howard S. Friedman, Ph.D., and Leslie R. Martin, Ph.D., Hudson Street Press.

The Longevity Project

“The Longevity Project” was a long time in the making—ninety years to be exact. In 1921, Stanford University psychologist Dr. Lewis Terman embarked on a study of 1,500 ostensibly gifted children, hoping to discern whether it was possible to recognize early glimmers of high potential. Though Dr. Terman died in 1956, the study continued for eight decades, ultimately yielding a treasure trove of information on health, aging, and longevity, which the book’s co-authors—a professor of psychology at UC Riverside (Friedman) and a professor of psychology at La Sierra University (Martin)—used to “investigat[e] why some people thrive well into old age while others fall ill and die prematurely.”

In the course of the book, Friedman and Martin examine many common beliefs—like “get married and you will live longer” and “thinking happy thoughts reduces stress and leads to long life”—and explain why they are myths. Among their most notable conclusions: Conscientious, dependable (as opposed to carefree) individuals tend to stay healthier and live longer, and “sociability, generally speaking, isn’t as health protective as people think,” in part because highly sociable people often find themselves in environments that encourage unhealthy behaviors. There’s also this bombshell: “[C]heerful and optimistic people [a]re less likely to live to an old age than their more staid and sober counterparts!” Why? Because “a significant health downside to optimism involves overlooking or ignoring real threats,” which explains why it’s sometimes referred to as illusory optimism.

Knowing that readers will want to examine their own lives, the authors have sprinkled a series of surveys throughout the book, which allow you to “assess yourself” (in terms of factors like social connections, personality, religious involvement, marriage and persistence). Make no mistake, after you’re through reading this book, you’ll no doubt recognize the “pathways” to a longer, healthier life, even if you’re not on one of those paths.