“Why Do You Want to Live Longer?”
By thegrayingsaver February 12, 2019
Post From Get Rich Slowly
When I was an undergrad I remember one of my English professors asking a class of about 30-40 people to raise their hand if they’d like to live forever. My memory is that no one raised their hand. I know I didn’t.
Did we want to live longer? Yeah, sure. Forever? Not so much.
Around that same period – early 90’s? – I remember reading an interview with guitarist/song writer J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. The interviewer asked him something along the lines of why he didn’t play much in alternate guitar tunings. His reply was something like – “why do anything if you can do everything?”
For my money that response encapsulates why none of us in that English class wanted to live forever. I still hold that position by the way, which is good since immortality is not on offer.
The point is that limitations can create windows of opportunity. If I knew I was going to live forever why should I get out of bed today? If I had an unlimited skill set why should I try to expand it? Why should we set out to do or create anything if we can do everything?
Fortunately we have limitations to give us windows of opportunity. Perhaps our biggest limitation is that we’re not going to live forever. We’re going to have a stopping point. Our lives are bounded by our birth and death. Start to finish. So whatever it is we’re going to do will have to be done within those limitations.
FYI – Marie Kondo recently visited our kitchen.
However, an inconvenient aspect of this arrangement is that despite knowing exactly where our starting line was – our birth – we have no idea where the finish line is. But fear not, if you’re reading this your window of opportunity is still open.
Keeping the Window Open
So no, I don’t want to live forever, but I would like to keep my window of opportunity open as long as possible and make the most of it while I can. Well duh. Doesn’t this go without saying? Isn’t it a bit cliche to say “I want to live a long and healthy life”? Of course it is, we all do.
More important than wanting to live longer and healthier is knowing precisely why you want that. And sorry, but “because I don’t want to be dead” is not the right answer.
I can’t tell you what the right answer is but I’m pretty sure that knowing exactly why you want to live longer is a critical part of making it happen.
I’ll be honest: I hadn’t truly thought about this question until I listened to an episode of the Rich Roll podcast with Dean and Anne Ornish. Dean and Anne are responsible for Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, which is a program designed to reverse chronic disease by optimizing four areas of life:
How you manage stress
How much you move
How much love & support you have
You can learn more about their program here. They have a new book out called Undo It, which discusses how their program of simple lifestyle changes can reverse most chronic diseases.
Anne Ornish doesn’t enter the podcast conversation until about the 39 minute mark. But when she does she offers a key question. When people enter their program one of the first things they have to do is answer the question “Why do you want to live longer?”
I heard her say this and I thought: “ *. I haven’t answered that question for myself.”
I Have Thought About What Not to Do
Most of the men in my family have died at relatively young ages. Both of my grandfathers died at 65 from heart disease. Both of them also had type 2 diabetes and gave themselves daily insulin injections.
My father died last year at age 71 from kidney failure as a result of type 2 diabetes. He also had heart disease. He’d had bypass surgery by the time he was my age. I just turned 49.
For years I’ve been trying to live differently than them. I saw them all deal with these chronic diseases and it made an impression on me. I decided I didn’t want to live like that. My father once said it was his job to live life like he wanted and his doctors’ job to medicate him. I regret not telling him I thought that was F’ing bullshit.
When chronic disease plays such a big role in your life you’re not living on your own terms. Do your chosen terms include the loss of bowel control and urinary incontinence? How about loss of sexual function and having all your teeth pulled? What about losing your mobility? Is that a sign that you’re doing things your way? Yes, I have a little anger around this.
I decided that if there’s anything I can do to prevent reliving all the misery I had witnessed I was going to do it, and so far so good.
But here’s the thing: all my efforts to live differently and be in better health than the males in my family who preceded me are largely a reaction to what I saw them go through and a rejection of their lifestyle. Essentially the lessons I learned from them fall under the heading: What Not To Do.
And in 49 years I’ve done a good job of not doing the things that my predecessors did to sabotage their own health. But what’s the next step? How do I answer the question of why I want to live longer? There must be a more meaningful answer than simply not wanting to be dead.
Getting a Clue
As you can probably tell, the why do you want to live longer question is another way of asking, what is your life’s purpose? But posing the question as why do you want to live longer gives it more immediacy. At least it does for me. There’s an absurdity in the wording that forces me to do a double take, to take a closer look.
And here’s the big reveal on my answer to that question: I don’t know. But I may have a clue. (insert anticlimactic emoji.)
The clue is that my answer to the why question has something to do with human relationships and wanting to continue to be a part of them. To work on developing them further – both old and new.
I want to know what it will feel like for my wife and I to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Can you imagine all the frozen pizzas!?!
I want to be a part of my son’s life when he approaches my current age. I’ll be 85 when he turns 50. I want to see how his life turns out. I want to continue to be present for him.
My mother’s father had a huge impact on my life even though I only knew him for 17 years. When you turn 49 and you realize that 50 is a short 12 months away 17 years seems like a very short amount of time.
My grandfather was born in 1922 and died in 1987. 1922 was two years before George H.W. Bush was born in 1924. H.W. died not quite 3 months ago.
My grandfather was always willing to help me count my money.
I’m supposed to remember that comparison is the thief of joy, but it’s hard not to think about the possibilities when I see a contemporary of my grandfather’s living almost 30 years longer he did. I can’t help but wonder what it would’ve been like to have known my grandfather for 30 or 40 years instead of 17.
The positive takeaway from this comparison is the realization that I have options and choices when it comes to my health and lifestyle behaviors.
For example, I have a much different relationship with food than my grandfather did. That’s a direct result of conscious choices I’ve made. I’ve decided that continuing to participate in the development of relationships is much more important to me than eating whatever I want with no regard for how it impacts my health.
Speaking of Relationships
For a while now I’ve had a vague idea that part of my purpose is to disown the treasure trove of dysfunction I’ve inherited from at least two prior generations of my family.
I was next in line to receive quite a haul of alcoholism, marital infidelity, narcissism, gas lighting, personality disorders, and lots of other stuff that I never wanted.
Here’s a fun example: about the same time I was in that English class I mentioned at the beginning of this post (when I was also listening to a lot of Dinosaur Jr) I remember encountering my *-drunk stepfather on our back porch where he had just cut the top off our Christmas tree in order to get it to fit in the living room. He looked at me disgusted and slurred out: “one of these days this is going to be your job.”
I thought to myself, it will never be my job to get shit-faced before noon on a Saturday and carve the family Christmas tree into a trapezoid. What a pathetic loser. Can’t remember now if he brought home two or three STDs. Quite a catch that one.
A big part of my life’s purpose so far has been about recognizing, understanding, and putting an end to ugly family traditions. This is easier said than done, and, as I mentioned in one of my first posts, I continue to work on it.
But when I think about what I want to leave behind and what I want to have accomplished in my life a big part of the answer is to have put an end to the cycle of dysfunction I was born in to. To hit the reset button on the pathological inheritance process. To be the point at which the train of dysfunction ends. Last stop, everybody off.
On the whole I’m succeeding at this mission and even if I don’t have my life’s purpose completely sorted it’s important to recognize accomplishments and allow myself to take pride in them. Which reminds me of a soon-to-be-famous saying: in life, we must build on our triumphs.
Do You Know Your Answer?
How about you? Have you thought about your life’s purpose? Do you know your own answer to the question of why you want to live longer? If so, how did you get there?
If you’re like me addressing this question feels a bit scary. It forces you to contend with other scary questions: have I wasted all these years? Is the world a better place for my being here? How do I know? What do I have to show for my efforts?
I think it’s pretty normal for these types of questions to spark a bit of fear and anxiety, which explains why most people avoid them. Yet despite not coming up with a complete answer to why I want to live longer just thinking about that question has helped me realize that expanding and developing human relationships is a central part of it.
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