The notion that persistence is essential for success and happiness is deeply embedded in popular and scientific writings. However, when people are faced with situations in which they cannot realize a key life goal, the most adaptive response for mental and physical health may be to disengage from that goal. This project followed 90 adolescents over the course of 1 year. Capacities for managing unattainable goals were assessed at baseline, and concentrations of the inflammatory molecule C-reactive protein (CRP) were quantified at that time, as well as 6 and 12 months later. To the extent that subjects had difficulties disengaging from unattainable goals, they displayed increasing concentrations of CRP over the follow-up. This association was independent of potential confounds, including adiposity, smoking, and depression. Because excessive inflammation contributes to a variety of adverse medical outcomes, these findings suggest that in some contexts, persistence may actually undermine well-being and good health.
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