I think that most of the longevity advice we’ve been given is total garbage.
This morning, I was surprised as I spoke with a friend whose mom had an objectively hard life – the kind typical of the WW2 era.
She had immigrated from Europe, was orphaned, struggled her entire life in New York City, had very few breaks – ever – and suffered through injury, illness, death, car accidents and more.
You would think that she would be fragile from so much adversity, and would eventually pass away earlier in life.
You would think that she would live shorter.
Listening to most of the advice on how to live better, people always say to just to just “take it easy.”
In other words, they’re saying to just have an easy life, don’t strive for too much, make sure to relax and not burn yourself out, etc.
But I was shocked when I heard about the age of my friend’s mom: 87. I could’ve sworn she was in her mid 60’s. Maybe 70. Maybe.
She was still walking around normally, with very little stiffness.
She had loads of personality.
And she was completely there.
And she looked young. Really young.
It wasn’t until I took more time to think about it did I realize that an easy life doesn’t necessarily equal a long one.
Why An Easy Life Doesn’t Make You Live Longer
It sounds simple in theory: we’re all stressed out, so the solution to better health is just to take it easy and do less, right?
I thought that made sense too.
In an article mentioned in TIME Magazine, research done by Stanford researchers Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin sought to analyze some of the factors that allowed people to live to an old age.
Their results were eventually profiled in a book called The Longevity Project.
One of their interesting conclusions was the following:
“The qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person, like a scientist-professor — somewhat obsessive and not at all carefree” are the qualities that help lead to a long life. “Many of us assume that more relaxed people live longer, but it’s not necessarily the case.” Why? Conscientious behavior influences other behaviors. Conscientious people tend to make healthier choices, including who they marry, where they work, and the likelihood they’ll smoke, drive too fast, or follow doctors’ orders.
And that one personality aspect in particular – hard workers, and not relaxed surfer dudes on the beach – do live longer (with exceptions) for some interesting reasons.
I’m not going to focus on diet and exercise – I’ve featured 23 people that lived to be 100+, and we know that diet matters.
But we’re talking about the inner, intangible aspects of health here.
So why is it that this one mindset allows people to live longer?
Why Hard Workers Live Longer
I once knew an older guy that had lived the typical “work the latter” type of lifestyle.
He worked like a dog in the finance industry to get his way to the top, finally was doing well financially, and a few decades later it was time to retire, get his nice place in North Carolina, tend his garden and play some golf.
A week after retirement I overheard someone talking about him:
“Dude, have you seen Bill? I saw him walking around the street like a zombie – almost like he had Alzheimer’s. He was just wandering aimlessly down the road. I thought it was a homeless person by how he was acting, or someone who was lost. It’s crazy.”
This guy had had so much self directed purpose for five decades, that now that there wasn’t a reason to get up in the morning, a challenge, something to put him into flow, he couldn’t function.
This is typical of ambitious, hard workers. Retirement is deadly for the mind.
Purpose, Meaning & The Great Life
Another story: there’s an elderly woman on the street I grew up on, who was a traveling and army nurse during World War 2.
She has lived alone her entire life, and still lives alone, and you know what always gets me? Anytime I see her (without her seeing me), she always has this huge smile plastered on her face.
Unfortunately, I never asked her what her “secret” was, but several years ago my mom did, and here’s what she said:
“The world is so interesting and there are so many interesting places to see and things to do!”
Pretty simple, but pretty profound right?
If life’s interesting, there’s a pretty damn good reason to keep on living, isn’t there?
And if there’s no point in waking up in the morning because life’s a bore – what’s the point?
Why not go back to sleep forever?
This is one of those intangible aspects of health that doctors aren’t too keen on talking about. It’s not always easy to say how much being happy or being miserable affects health and longevity – despite the fact that we all see it.
Hard workers often work hard for a purpose.
The immigrant who wants a better life for her kids.
The father who wants a better life for his wife and sons.
The person who is tired of waking up to the 9-5 grind and repeating the same, monotonous, meaningless day, over and over – who wants something better.
All these people have a deep why behind their hustle and work ethic.
Maybe that’s why they go on to live long lives: purpose.
People with a large purpose are persistent, they are unwilling to quit, they are tenacious, and they are much harder to beat down than the average person.
Willing Yourself to Death and The Power of Work & Busyness As a Purpose
In the 18th century, as a BBC article mentions, a cruel prank was played on a medical assistant that wasn’t well liked:
Doctors have long known that beliefs can be deadly – as demonstrated by a rather nasty student prank that went horribly wrong. The 18th Century Viennese medic, Erich Menninger von Lerchenthal, describes how students at his medical school picked on a much-disliked assistant. Planning to teach him a lesson, they sprung upon him before announcing that he was about to be decapitated. Blindfolding him, they bowed his head onto the chopping block, before dropping a wet cloth on his neck. Convinced it was the kiss of a steel blade, the poor man “died on the spot”.
This is clearly just one anecdotal example, but virtually everyone knows an elderly person, grandparent, or even a parent that decided “I’ve lived a long life, and it’s my time.” Not long after, they passed away.
It’s also interesting that I’ve seen so many elderly married couples where one partner will die, and the other will die within six months from no other apparent illness besides loneliness or unhappiness.
No doubt the mind is powerful.
With this immigrant hustle that I keep coming back to, there’s often a really strong purpose for living and existing.
Sometimes the purpose is as simple as making your parents proud, providing a better future for your kids, or just surviving another day and trying to feed yourself. This kind of internal fire to live, improve, hustle, work, and keep going is really interesting to me.
So rather than taking it easy, walking on eggshells, and worrying about work and being busy – maybe it’s time to stay busy, but maybe be more busy doing the right stuff.
The right stuff that leads you to a sense of purpose.
The right stuff that leads you to a powerful why.
And the right stuff that leads to the tenacious, bull mindset willing to push you through any obstacles on the path.
Some images: freedigitalphotos.net