The No. 1 Personal Trait for a Long Life May Surprise You
By Jim Denison
The number of people in the US living to at least one hundred years old has doubled over the last decade. Ask many centenarians their secret and they’ll credit their positive attitude. But David Watson, a professor emeritus of personality psychology at the University of Notre Dame, disagrees: “I think the effects of just being positive are overrated.”
Dr. Watson claims that the trait most related to longevity is conscientiousness, or being organized and disciplined. This is likely because conscientious people are better at taking care of themselves concerning eating habits, healthy behaviors, and safe activities.
I wonder if the same trait is vital to the longevity of a nation.
USA Today is reporting that school shootings have hit an all-time high for the second year in a row. The 2021–22 school year saw more than twice the shootings of the previous year, which was itself the highest in two decades. Unsurprisingly, Gen Z (people between nine and twenty-four years old) are struggling with their mental health; only 15 percent said their mental health was excellent, compared with 52 percent of millennials who said the same a decade ago.
Here’s another window into our societal psyche: only 26 percent of Americans are optimistic about the future of the family. And no wonder: only 23 percent believe being married is important to living a fulfilling life, compared to 71 percent who point to “having a job or career they enjoy.” In addition, 58 percent believe a married gay or lesbian couple raising children together is “acceptable”; 53 percent say the same about an unmarried gay or lesbian couple raising children.
The Lord said of ancient Israel, “My people did not listen to my voice” (Psalm 81:11), “so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (v. 12). And we know how that turned out.
Is America following the same path?
“These great pillars of human happiness”
President George Washington laid the cornerstone of the US Capitol building on this day in 1793. He had already helped to lay the cultural cornerstone of our new nation; in his First Inaugural Address, for example, he paid homage to the “Almighty Being who rules over the universe; who presides in the counsels of nations; and whose providential aids can supply every human defect.” He then said of his fellow Americans, “Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
Washington would later declare in his “Farewell Address,” “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”
What would our first president think of the “dispositions and habits” of political culture today?
More to the point, what does God?
He said of ancient Israel, “I know the things that come into your mind” (Ezekiel 11:5) and thus knew that “you have not walked in my statutes, nor obeyed my rules” (v. 12). He said of the first-century Roman Empire, “with the wine of sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk” (Revelation 17:2). He warned the superpowers of the day: “Behold, I am bringing punishment on the king of Babylon and his land, as I punished the king of Assyria” (Jeremiah 50:18).
What was true then is true today: “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). Americans included.
“To follow truth, and thus to follow thee”
The good news is that the good news of the gospel is still “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Billy Graham was right: “One of the Bible’s greatest truths is that our lives can be different. No matter what our past has been, Christ stands ready to forgive and cleanse us—and then to make us new.”
This is because “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is not our work but God’s transforming miracle: “All this is from God, who through Christ has reconciled us to himself” (v. 18). Now we are “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (v. 20).
To this end, let’s close by making John White Chadwick’s hymn our prayer:
Eternal Ruler of the ceaseless round
Of circling planets singing on their way;
Guide of the nations from the night profound
Into the glory of the perfect day;
Rule in our hearts, that we may ever be
Guided and strengthened and upheld by thee.
We would be one in hatred of all wrong,
One in our love of all things sweet and fair,
One with the joy that breaketh into song,
One with the grief that trembles into prayer,
One in the power that makes thy children free
To follow truth, and thus to follow thee.
O clothe us with thy heavenly armor, Lord,
Thy trusty shield, thy sword of love divine:
Our inspiration be thy constant word;
We ask no victories that are not thine.
Give or withhold, let pain or pleasure be;
Enough to know that we are serving thee.
Is serving Christ enough for you today?
Jim Denison Ph.D speaks and writes on cultural and contemporary issues. His daily column is distributed to more than 113,000 subscribers in 208 countries. See more on the website
www.denisonforum.org. Copyrighted and printed by permission from Denison Forum.
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