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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 19/03/2011

Emily has just added an item on Emily's News reporting on the publication of a new book called The Longevity Project which reports the findings from a longitudinal project which started in 1921 and has tracked the lives of 1,500 people from their childhood until their death.

The book's main claims is that being 'conscientious' is particularly important to longevity. They define this as 'persistence, prudence, hard work' and involvement with other people. The authors suggest that children who were particularly sociable and optimistic did not reap the benefits of this sunny disposition as they were more likely to die in accidents or damage their health from all that partying. The cheerful, they argue, also found it more difficult to cope when life was hard. Indeed they argue that 'cheerfulness was as big a risk factor for premature death as elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol.' However, what also emerged from the study is that those who 'catastrophised' and dwelt on all the bad things that could go wrong were more likely to die early.

I am particularly interested in longevity because my parents are both still alive – my mother is 90 in a few weeks time and my father is 88. They are both still living independently in their own home doing most of their cooking and cleaning. (My mother still insists on doing her own ironing.) They have all their faculties and, despite various aches and pains, enjoy their lives. Given that they come from ordinary, working-class west of Scotland backgrounds, and smoked from their teens until their 50s, that is particularly good going. I regularly ask myself why they are bucking the trend.

I think the answer is primarily to be found in the fact that they are living with a huge amount of stimulation and support. Fourteen years ago they moved into a house across the road from me and my family. My younger sister, and her family, live a few streets away. My older sister lives down south but is in constant touch and makes frequent visits. Their four grandchildren also keep in touch with them and they are on very good terms with their immediate neighbours. 

As well as this practical and emotional support from the family they feel needed. My father no longer drives and so they require lots of help with shopping but the help is still two-way. They are still willing to, and capable of, feeding cats and hens, watering plants and making a plate of mince and potatoes for your tea.

Stimulation is also a big feature of both their lives. My mother does the crossword and puzzles everyday, reads, listens to the radio and watches soaps. Since moving here she has never had a more hectic social life, attending a weekly lunch club, 'the pensioners' and the women's guild. She regularly goes out for lunch with friends and on outings with her daughters.  My father is less sociable but has lots of hobbies and interests. He is always making pots of soup and jars of jam; he can knock a tune out of most instruments; he loves growing vegetables and has already got his tomato seeds planted for this year. He loves chopping logs and setting my stove for me – no doubt some kind of throw back to when he stoked the engine in steam trains.  He loves a bargain and is in his element when shopping in Lidl's or B&M Stores.

As I've written this about my parents I've realised that their longevity is not simply about the support and stimulation they have in their older years. It is also because, throughout their lives, they have demonstrated the quality of 'conscientiousness' ('persistence, prudence, hard work') and involvement with others which the authors identify as fundamental to a long, and happy, life.  

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