After a keynote address I asked the audience to suggest the biggest change they could make to help them live longer and better lives. Then they voted for the most popular answers.
Two stood out:
- "Be less driven"
- "Work less hard"
Make sense? No less an authority than Adam Grant says the workday should end at 3 p.m., and that many people would be just as productive working four days a week instead of five.
Hold that thought.
Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman was a pioneer in I.Q. testing; his revisions of the Stanford-Binet test helped it become a widespread tool for measuring general intelligence.
In 1921 he identified 1,500 children who had scored 135 or higher on the test and began one of the longest longitudinal studies ever conducted.
Analyzing large groups of people over many decades allowed researchers to uncover connections between cause and effect that short-term studies might miss; it's impossible to know whether what someone did in their teens, or in their 40s, helped make them happy in their 80s... unless those people can be evaluated at every stage of their lives
Who did Terman's study show lived the "longest, most fulfilling" lives?
The people who were actively engaged in pursuing their goals.
And here's the kicker:
Many of the people who worked the hardest actually lived the longest.
Keep in mind whether or not participants achieved their goals was largely irrelevant.
Pursuit is what counts.
According to the authors of The Longevity Project:
"We did not find that precisely living out your dreams matters much for your health. It was not the most relaxed older participants who lived the longest. It was those who were most engaged in pursuing their goals.
"Those who were the most successful were the ones least likely to die at any given age. In fact, those men who were carefree, undependable, and unambitious in childhood and very unsuccessful in their careers had a whopping increase in their mortality risk (my bold)."
Of course "success" means -- and definitely should mean -- different things to different people.
That's why determining what success means to you, and then actively working to achieve your definition of success, is the key.
Living a laid-back, care-free, stress-free life may sound great... but, as the study shows, "happy-go-lucky" people don't live as long -- and don't feel as fulfilled.
Of course where happiness, fulfillment, and longevity are concerned, other things matter too. Research shows good relationships make you happier and healthier. But it's not easy to change the quality of your relationships overnight. Nor developing greater willpower and determination something you can accomplish overnight (although there are certainly ways you can increase your ability to resist temptation, stay focused and determined, and remain resolute in pursuit of your goals.)
But what can you do overnight?
Start working -- hard -- towards achieving your goals.
Maybe you'll do as Adam says and stop working every day at 3 p.m., or work four days instead of five. But as Terman's study indicates, you should spend that "free" time actively pursuing other goals -- professional or personal.
Pick something you want to do, that you want to achieve, that you want to be... and actively work towards it. Not only will you enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with progressing towards a goal (even if that "goal" is doing something purely for fun), you'll also feel better about yourself.
Focus on making the most of every hour you have in whatever ways leave you feeling the most fulfilled.
Actively pursuing your goals, even if you never quite achieve them, will make your life more fulfilling.
And will help you live longer.
Which will give you even more time to work hard to achieve the things you want to achieve.
How's that for a win-win?