Do you want to live a long and happy life? Most of us do. Well, the latest research pokes a few holes in that wish -- at least, for Americans.  

Americans now live an average 2.2 fewer years than those in 12 other developed countries. American men make it to just 76.4 years, while women get to 81.2. Some of the reasons for the shorter lifespan include risky behavior and car accidents, but stress is also a major factor. 

But it is not all bad news from the scientific front -- researchers are now finding a strong connection between longevity and work. In a landmark eight-decade study of longevity, researchers found that, among other things, men and women who were continually productive were healthier and lived longer than their less-driven peers. 

This is good news, because work has (unfairly) earned a bad reputation. In fact, many people think they must somehow balance the "necessary evil" of work with the rest of their lives -- a balance they will likely never achieve.

Work is an essential ingredient for a happy life, and now research proves that working hard in a field that you love will give your life meaning and purpose. Productive work keeps you active; it challenges you to continue learning and to strive towards mastery. 

The same study tells us that if you possess the following qualities -- and are working on something you truly care about -- it will help extend your years:


You are better off if you can embrace the reality of a situation. Realistic optimists -- those who see things the way they are -- do not ignore problems when they arise. Because they take fewer risks with their health, their prudence leads to better outcomes than their Pollyanna peers, who assume everything will be okay and take more chances.


Perseverance pays off -- the study found that people who do not give up easily eventually learn to master challenging problems, which helps to extend their years. Even people who experience trauma such as combat can keep going if they find some meaning in what they endured.  


People who are consistently engaged and involved in their work fare best over the long run. It is not enough to perform a rote, boring task -- you must believe your work has a larger purpose and make an emotional investment in the outcome.


You need to have a cause that is greater than yourself. The study found that people who focus on helping others actually live longer and healthier lives than people who only seek help for themselves. Surrounding yourself with other healthy folks can help you live longer as well. 

Pursuing a life filled with meaning and purpose is not easy. You must be ready to spot problems when they arise, persevere through difficulties, stay engaged, and assist others in the process. 

But once you embrace it you will have a good reason to get up every day. And with a little luck, you will have more years to pursue the work that matters most to you.