The key skills to make us good at life

The ability to learn throughout life is a recurring theme of discussions around the future of work, and especially around the impact automation and other technology based disruptions may have on the way we work.

We’ve seen thinkers such as Carol Dweck explore this issue with her work around mindset, and a recent study led by University College London takes a leaf from that book in exploring various life skills that help us to thrive throughout the various stages of life.

The paper identified five key skills that are hugely important throughout our lives:

  • emotional stability
  • determination
  • control
  • optimism
  • conscientiousness

Skills for life

These skills have long been known to help us achieve success in both our school life but also our early career, but the researchers wanted to test how valuable they were in later life as well.

The researchers tested over 8,000 people aged 52 and above for each of these attributes, before then exploring their life in terms of physical and mental health, income and so on.

It emerged that when people scored highly for the key life skills, they enjoyed a range of benefits, including greater financial stability, less depression, low social isolation, better health and fewer chronic diseases.

Such individuals tended to be slimmer, with lower cholesterol levels, and indeed lower levels of C-reactive protein, which is a key marker of inflammation that is relevant to a range of different diseases.

“No single attribute was more important than others. Rather, the effects depended on the accumulation of life skills,” the authors say.

Good at life

For instance, if people had four or five of the key skills, their chances of suffering from depression dropped from 22.8% to 3.1%. The same seemed to be true in terms of ones physical health, with 36.7% of those with few life skills rating their health as fair or poor, versus just 6% of those with high life skills.

Similar findings emerged for things such as loneliness, whilst volunteering rates rose significantly among those with more life skills.

As the researchers had taken into account things such as cognitive function, education and family background, they believe their findings are robust and that life skills can play a significant part in our outcomes in life.

“There is research on individual factors such as conscientiousness and optimism in adults, but the combinations of these life skills has not be studied very much before”, the authors say.  “We were surprised by the range of processes – economic, social, psychological, biological, and health and disability related – that seem to be related to these life skills. Our research suggests that fostering and maintaining these skills in adult life may be relevant to health and wellbeing at older ages.”


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