We all have that friend (or maybe, we are that friend) who is late to every single brunch, baby shower, and school board meeting ever put in the calendar and spend most Sundays slinking into the back pew at church hoping not to draw attention. While Southerners pride themselves on good manners, which includes timeliness, some people simply seem incapable of being on time.
While it’s certainly a frustrating characteristic both for the people waiting to order lunch until the tardy friend makes their appearance and for the well-intentioned, but perennially late person, turns out there is a silver lining to it. A recent body of scientific work, reveals that the traits that tend to make people late, are the very same traits that can help them live longer and more productive lives.
Science has shown that stress is incredibly bad for overall health. People who are late typically feel less stressed, unconcerned with deadlines, and generally more relaxed. That can lead to lower blood pressure, lower risks of heart disease, greater cardiovascular health, lower risk of stroke, and lower chance of depression, all of which can prolong life.
As Diana DeLonzor wrote in her book, Never Late Again, many late people tend to be both optimistic and unrealistic. That means they truly, deeply believe that they can, say, go for a run, take a shower, stop at the Piggly Wiggly to buy groceries for dinner, pick up the dry cleaning, and still make it on time to pick up the kids from school all in one hour. That is a clearly optimistic schedule, yet many chronically late people truly believe it’s possible, even when proven time and again that it’s not. That level of optimism reaches far beyond an over-planned schedule, though. According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, “Research tells us that an optimistic outlook early in life can predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years.”
Optimism can also effect productivity and success. A study among salesmen revealed that optimists sold 88 percent more than their pessimistic colleagues. They performed better because they have a better outlook.
Similarly, some chronically late people are perfectionists who can’t leave the house until the dishwasher is empty and the laundry is folded, according to Dr. Linda Sapadin, a time management specialist and fellow at the American Psychological Association. That may be frustrating trait in a friend, but is a desirable characteristic in an employee and can lead to more successful career.
Another reason that a person may end up perpetually tardy is that they are simply engrossed in another activity and lose track of time. Being passionate about a subject can translate to long-term success, which means late people may end up being very successful. Business leaders like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos have all weighed in on the fact that being truly passionate about your work is the secret to success. So the next time someone is late, ask them what they were working on, it may be enlightening.
Finally, it’s important to understand that for some people, lateness is not entirely their fault, because they may have a completely different sense of time than you. A team of scientists put one minute on the clock and asked two different groups of people with Type A (ambitious, driven) or Type B (relaxed, creative) personalities and asked them to guess how much time had passed. Their study revealed that people with Type A personalities guessed that an average of 58 seconds had passed, while those with Type B personalities thought an average of 77 seconds had passed. That 19 second difference in perception could add up quickly leading someone to be very late to lunch.
The next time someone is tardy to the party, keep in mind that they may be happier, healthier, and more productive—and then mull that over while you order an extra appetizer to eat while you wait.