The five life skills which bring health, wealth and success throughout life have been discovered by scientists.
Experts at University College London have found that emotional stability, determination, control, optimism and conscientiousness are the foundation stones of building a fruitful life.
People in their 50s and 60s who scored highly in at least four of the five attributes were generally wealthier, less depressed, healthy and connected to a large social circle.
In contrast those who achieved two or fewer of the skills were often lonely, depressed and were far more likely to suffer from chronic diseases.
“It is well recognized that some highly intelligent people or those who come from privileged backgrounds may not succeed because they lack character strengths, whereas less well-endowed individuals who are reliable and self-disciplined do attain their goals,” said Professor Andrew Steptoe of the department of Epidemiology and Public Health, who co-led the research.
“No single attribute was more important than others. Rather, the effects depended on the accumulation of life skills.
“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.”
To find out the impact of key life skills, the team from UCL looked at data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing which has followed more than 8,000 middle-aged Britons for the past 11 years.
They discovered that just three per cent of people who scored highly for all five positive attributes had symptoms of severe depression compared with 22 per cent of people who had a low number of life skills.
Nearly half the people who reported the highest levels of loneliness had the fewest skills, declining to 10.5 per cent in those with the most.
Highly skilled people also had lower levels of cholesterol and of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation relevant to a number of different diseases including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They also had smaller waistlines and walked more quickly, which often predicts a longer life.
The proportion of respondents who rated their health as only fair or poor was 36.7 per cent among those with low life skills, but fell to just six per cent in participants with a higher number of attributes.
Regular volunteering rose from 28.7 per cent to 40 per cent with increasing numbers of life skills.
|Cross-associations between life skills and economic, psychological and social outcomes. The horizontal axis on each chart represents the number of life skills ranging from low to 4 or 5
|Cross-associations between life skills and economic, psychological and social outcomes. The horizontal axis on each chart represents the number of life skills ranging from low to 4 or 5 (4,5).
Although the researchers say causal conclusions cannot be drawn from the observational study, they said they had been careful to take into account cognitive function, education and family background, ruling them out as being responsible for the outcomes associated with life skills.
Co-author Prof Jane Wardle, of UCL concluded: “Life skills such as persistence, conscientiousness, and control are important in early life.
“Our results suggest that fostering and maintaining these skills in adult life may be relevant to health and wellbeing at older ages.
“This work opens up possibilities for exploring ways in which a range of life skills might be enhanced in people at older ages, for the possible improvement of health, wellbeing, and social function in the later stages of life.”
The research was published in the journal PNAS.