Thursday, August 21

Get off my lawn: Old and cranky not a cliché

Remember the greatest moment in cinematic history? Clint Eastwood taking on a pack of thugs who broke his lawn gnome?

New research says Clint may have been just acting his age. A New Zealand study of the "Big Five" personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience) found that only Agreeableness decreases over time. Most other traits are unstable in youth, more stable in middle age, and less stable again in old age -- which doesn't bode well, either, for people expecting life to get better with age.

Why is this important information? Because another study finds that being old and cynical (a euphemism for "cranky") makes you three times -- three times! -- more likely to get Alzheimer's.

But it's not all bad news. One trait -- extroversion -- stays relatively stable throughout life. And more research shows that extroverts make up the happiest group of people.

Take-home messages:

1. Outgoing people continue to be outgoing. Make an effort to put yourself out there. It's a good habit, and makes you happy.

2. Feeling cranky and old is normal. But you're not a slave to mere "feelings." When you're old enough to feel cranky, you're old enough to master your behavior. Act cheerful. It's an odd truth that pretending to be happy -- smiling when you don't feel like smiling -- actually makes people happy. 

3. Stay off Clint Eastwood's lawn.