Name a few things that help you live longer. Exercise, sleep, healthy eating… Here’s something new to add to the list: being stubborn.
A new study has shown that stubbornness is a characteristic that can help you live a long life. Research published in the academic journal International Psychogeriatrics looked at the mental and physical health of elderly residents of a rural area in southern Italy. The researchers from the universities of Rome and California found that those who lived the longest had certain personality traits in common. One of these was stubbornness.
Study of elderly Italians shows being stubborn helps
The study found that in the remote villages of Cilento, south of Naples, those who were over 90 years of age had better overall mental health than many younger relatives. This included even those who were physically healthier. The researchers cited several common factors among these elders: positivity, work ethic, strong bonds with family, religion and land – and being stubborn.
This study examined living long from a psychological rather than a physical perspective. Much of the medical research into longevity has concluded that your genes are strong determinants for aging. This research focused instead on personalities.
“We found that this group of elderly people tended to be domineering, stubborn and needed a sense of control.”
– study’s lead author, psychologist Anna Scelzo
The elderly Italians studied were found to have greater “self-confidence and decision-making skills” than many of their juniors. This finding confirms the view that psycho-social attributes like well-being and wisdom can improve with age, even as physical health gets worse.
“Studying the strategies of exceptionally long-lived and lived-well individuals, who not just survive but also thrive and flourish, enhances our understanding of health and functional capacities in all age groups.”
– Dr. Dilip Jeste, psychiatry professor at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, another of the study’s authors
Other factors could have played a role in the longevity of this region. Italians tend to be short, which apparently can be an indicator for long life. Plus they eat more olive oil and other foods of the classic Mediterranean diet, which has also been linked to healthy aging.
Another issue to consider is that this research was of a small sample: 29 individuals aged 90 to 101 compared with 51 younger family members aged 50 to 75.
Intriguing insights into attitudes to aging were revealed through the comments of the study’s participants.
“I do not know what stress is.”
“Life is what it is and must be faced … always.”
“I am always thinking for the best, there is always a solution in life.”
– comments of elderly Italians studied
Most of these old rural Italians were still working in their homes and on the land. Scelzo said that their view is that, “This is my life and I’m not going to give it up.” But she also pointed out that their “notable grit” in wanting to control their environment was balanced by an ability to adapt to their circumstances as they changed.
Stubbornness – why the bad rap?
These latest findings about longevity made me want to revisit the notion of stubbornness now that it has been revealed as a positive influence. Being stubborn is a trait with a bad reputation. Synonyms for stubbornness invoke animals, from pigheaded and bullheaded to dogged and mulish. Other words for stubborn refer to a lack of movement, e.g. inflexible, intransigent or intractable.
What makes this study so interesting is that it counters the negative image of stubbornness that is so frequently associated with old people. This point was made in an online debate on the pros and cons of being stubborn.
“If you are stubborn like my grandfather, who won’t try new things, won’t learn simpler ways, won’t listen to reason, refuses to open his mind or broaden his horizons, I think it is bad, and very sad to live so rigidly.”
– Q & A website, Quora
Sexism in stubbornness
Another stereotype about stubbornness is that it’s not a trait that suits females. “I won’t marry a stubborn woman” is something men are said to say. Such women are seen as difficult, hard-headed and bossy.
Stubborn – in a good way
So can stubbornness be a good thing, regardless of age or gender? Yes, say the authors of the Italian longevity study. Stubbornness can be positive when it means being true to your convictions, even after considering the views of others. And when being stubborn means not trying to please other people and caring less about what they think of you.
Being stubborn can be a desirable trait when it indicates that you know what you want, and what you don’t. Stubbornness is said to make you more decisive.
If you still need convincing on the merits of this unfairly maligned trait, here’s a testament from one of the stubborn old Italians:
”I feel younger now than when I was young.”
And if you want to be stubborn, but don’t know how, check out the WikiHow on How To Be Stubborn in 14 simple steps.