Life Skills Predict Happiness Later in Life

If you could choose to master any life skill, optimism wouldn’t be a bad place to start. That and four other life skills have been linked to health, happiness and even financial wealth later in life.

Psychologists have known for a while that certain traits like optimism tend to be associated with higher wellbeing. So recently, public health researchers from University College London decided to do a large-scale study to see how five of these traits correlate with physical health, mental health and financial wellbeing later in life.

The study surveyed over 8,000 men and women between the ages of 52 and 67, asking them about multiple different aspects of their lives. It also tested how they scored on five life skills:

  • Optimism
  • Emotional stability
  • Conscientiousness
  • Determination
  • Control

It turned out that people who scored higher on more of the skills tended to have a variety of positive outcomes in different parts of their lives.

For example, those who were more proficient in the five life skills were less depressed, less socially isolated and less lonely on average. They also tended to have more close relationships and saw themselves as having higher wellbeing.

When it came to physical health, the results were even more impressive. People who scored high on the five life skills had fewer chronic diseases, less physical impairment and faster walking speed, and they were less likely to develop new chronic diseases in the four-year followup period. When they underwent health examinations, they tended to have healthier levels of cholesterol and of certain proteins as well as less abdominal obesity.

Finally, as if that’s not enough, people who’d mastered the five life skills were also financially better-off. They had more wealth and higher incomes.

But it’s not just that they came from higher socioeconomic classes. The results were independent of both education level and parental socioeconomic status, meaning the association between life skills and positive outcomes later in life wasn’t just a matter of growing up with more wealth.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the study didn’t home in on cause-and-effect. When we’re talking about big questions like how mental health, physical health, income and life skills all interact with each other, untangling what causes what is pretty complex. Still, the results are striking, so for now, you probably won’t regret doing what you can to nurture your conscientiousness and emotional stability!

Image: Flickr/Patrick Doheny