Researchers who studied a survey of almost 700 older adults found that those who got along with their relatives, friends and neighbors were less likely to report health problems and physical limitations.
The findings don't prove a cause-and-effect relationship between social life and health. Still, "the take-home message is that conflict in your life may have important impacts on your physical health," said study lead author Jason T. Newsom, associate professor at the Portland State University School of Community Health in Oregon.
There's nothing really new about a supposed link between attitude and health, but Newsom said his study was unique, because it looked specifically at interactions between people. Newsom and his colleagues looked at the results of a multi-year national survey of people aged 65 to 90. A total of 666 people completed the survey, in which researchers asked them questions about their lives and their health. Many of the questions were designed to reveal whether the study participants were prone to have "negative social interactions" with other people, Newsom said. The questions asked whether "people have interfered or meddled in your personal matters, have they acted unsympathetically or been critical of you. We asked them in a very general way," he said.
The survey didn't ask whether the participants were the instigators of negative encounters -- by being crabby or cranky, for instance -- or the victims of others who made their lives difficult.
The researchers found that those who reported more negative social encounters suffered greater declines in health.
I have noticed this phenomenon in my personal as well as my professional life that people tend to age and die as they have lived. There is some idea that negative people "mellow" as they get older, but I don't see it. In fact, it seems to me that people's personality traits tend to become more accentuated. Negative people have less energy and become more isolated so they may appear more mellow but their interactions often continue to be problematic.
I remember B.F. Skinner, the pioneer of behavioral psychology pointing out that people can grow old gracefully or bitter. I choose gracefully.