Study participants and residents of the Cilentro region of southern Italy. UC

A new study has linked personality traits like stubbornness, optimism, and several others to be the key to a long and happy life.

Researchers studied nine remote Italian villages near the Mediterranean Sea where hundreds of citizens reach ages above 90.

Researchers at the University of Rome La Sapienza and University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine have identified common psychological traits in members of this group.

The researchers chose participants who were 90 to 101 years old and made an astonishing finding. The 90-year-olds were all found to have worse physical health compared to their younger family members aged 51 to 75 years but better mental well-being.

“There have been a number of studies on very old adults, but they have mostly focused on genetics rather than their mental health or personalities,” said Dilip V. Jeste MD, senior author of the study, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine in a press release.

“The main themes that emerged from our study, and appear to be the unique features associated with the better mental health of this rural population, were positivity, work ethic, stubbornness and a strong bond with family, religion, and land,” he added.

The study gathered 29 aged participants from the Cilento region of southern Italy and used quantitative rating scales for assessing both their mental and physical health.

They were interviewed to gather personal narratives of the participants, including topics such as migrations, traumatic events, and beliefs. The younger control group were subjected to the same parameters to get a structured comparison between two generation of the same family.

“The group’s love of their land is a common theme and gives them a purpose in life. Most of them are still working in their homes and on the land. They think, ‘This is my life and I’m not going to give it up,’” said Anna Scelzo, first author of the study with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in Chiavarese, Italy.

Interview responses also suggested that the participants had considerable self-confidence and decision-making skills.

“This paradox of aging supports the notion that well-being and wisdom increase with aging even though physical health is failing,” said Dilip Jeste, also the Estelle and Edgar Levi Chair in Aging and director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UC San Diego.

The researchers also found that the study group mostly showed domineering, stubborn and control ling personality traits. According to the study, they were true to themselves and were very confident with who they were which allowed them to display these characteristics without negative outcomes.

“This tendency to control the environment suggests notable grit that is balanced by a need to adapt to changing circumstances,” Jeste added.

The resilience to age and the mental sharpness these long-lived Italians, according to the researchers, proves that a positive outlook and a clear conscience are key to mental health. Their gritty character, positive decision making and patriotism were evident to the team. They constantly reminded themselves and others of their heritage and lineage and were very proud of the fact. They constantly worked in their homes and kept themselves occupied.

The researchers plan on conducting follow-up studies on the same group and also try to ring in more strategies to judge how these exceptionally long-lived and happy individuals exist. Studying their brain function, neural pathways and a basic understanding of life and its values will enhance our understanding of health and functional capacities in all age groups.

The study published in International Psychogeriatrics was funded, in part, by UC San Diego’s Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging.