It’s clear from the thriving self-help industry that most of us are constantly seeking personal betterment, but what might improve our chances? More cash? Access to contacts and connections? Visible abs? Scientists at the University College London claim to have discovered the combination of personality traits and skills that enable individuals to “do life” better that the rest of us.
To define the life skills conducive to health, happiness and success researchers looked at data from 8,000 participants of the 11-year-long English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. They discovered the magic mix of determination, emotional stability, self-control, conscientiousness and optimism enables people to thrive on both a personal and professional level.
Among those who scored highly on all five key traits, only 3% reported suffering from depression, while 22% of those with fewer of the defined skills felt depressed.
They were also less likely to be lonely – only 10.5% reported experiencing loneliness compared to almost 50% of the lesser skilled group.
On a physical level, the skilled individuals seemed significantly healthier. Just 6% of them only rated their health as fair to poor, while a huge 36.7% of those with fewer skills felt their wellbeing was lacking.
What’s more, individuals with more skills had smaller waistlines (and therefore a lesser chance of developing Type 2 diabetes, which has been linked to fat that accumulates around the midsection), lower levels of cholesterol and C-reactive protein (an inflammation increasing substance produced by the liver) and a faster walking pace.
It might be easy to dismiss the results as relating to other factors, but the researchers were careful to account for family background, education level and general cognitive function.
“No single attribute was more important than others. Rather, the effects depended on the accumulation of life skills,” Professor Andrew Steptoe, from UCL’s department of Epidemiology & Public Health, told Refinery29. “We were surprised by the range of processes – economic, social, psychological, biological, and health and disability related – that seem to be related to these life skills.”
All of this begs the question – is it possible to learn or develop these traits if you aren’t born with them? Some scientists believe 40% of your personality is down to genetics, which means there’s plenty of potential to cultivate the key five – determination, emotional stability, self-control, conscientiousness and optimism – of your own volition.