"The 1,528 Terman participants were all quite intelligent, with a good start in life. By age ten they were doing well in school, were noticed by their teachers, and were being investigated by a Stanford professor — Lewis Terman. Many went on to be successful, but quite a large number of their fellow participants faced regular disappointments — in love, in careers, and in length of life. Some who succeeded were lucky, but many others made their own luck.
"Across the life span, many predictors emerged as to who would do better and who would do worse, who would live longer and who would die younger. It was not good cheer or being popular and outgoing that made the difference. It was also not those who took life easy, played it safe, or avoided stress who lived the longest. Rather, it was those who — through an often-complex pattern of persistence, prudence, hard work, and close involvement with friends and communities — headed down meaningful, interesting life paths and, as we have illustrated, found their way back to these healthy paths each time they were pushed off the road.
"The qualities and lifestyles cultivated by people on these long-life paths reflect an active pursuit of goals, a deep satisfaction with life, and a strong sense of accomplishment. That's not to say that these people possessed a giddy sense of happiness — we described how cheerfulness doesn't necessarily lead to a long life. But having a large social network, engaging in physical activities that naturally draw you in, giving back to your community, enjoying and thriving in your career, and nurturing a healthy marriage or close friendships can do more than add many years to your life. Together, they represent the living with purpose that comes from working hard, reaching out to others, and bouncing back from difficult times.
"How fascinating to understand that those individuals who became involved with others in a consequential life would be improving their health as an unanticipated bonus. Of course many consequential lives have been cut tragically short, and some long lives seem bereft of accomplishment. Still, because getting and staying on healthy life paths can be a lifelong challenge, it is heartening to know that embracing the lessons of the Terman participants and striving for a socially richer and more productive life will increase the odds of a long life as well."