"Worrying is always bad for your health." Wrong. A study lasting for more than 80 years debunks conventional wisdom.
Philip was a bright, nervous child. He was younger than average in his grade, his mother having started him a year early. He was close to his parents, who divorced when he was 13, and then lived with his mother, who struggled to make ends meet. As he grew up, married, and became a father, he evolved into a worrier. He divorced, remarried shortly after. He joined the military and seemed to enjoy it, but later reported that his job was not fully satisfying, and he felt he hadn't lived up to his potential. He died early, before his 65th birthday, of a heart attack.
Philip was one of 1,500 bright children who were tracked for more than 80 years in a massive longitudinal study begun in 1921 by psychologist Lewis Terman. Terman and his successors—he died before many of the children—collected millions of details about these subjects, including whether they were breast-fed, how much they exercised, what their marriages were like, how satisfying their sex lives were, how satisfying their jobs were. Could this sea of information teach us how to avoid Philip's fate?
In The Longevity Project (Penguin, $25.95, March 3) the psychology professors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie Martin describe their two-decade-long odyssey to answer that question using Terman's data. Eventually publishing about 50 scholarly papers on the subject, they discovered that many adages promising long life—get married, exercise regularly, think happy thoughts, don't work so hard—are not shortcuts to immortality, and for certain groups of people, they can actually have the opposite effect.