A long, happy life?

Posted 06.22.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | We are bombarded with suggestions and directives on how to live healthier and longer. There are rules apparently for every aspect of our lives: from how much sleep we need to our all-important exercise and eating habits. The self-appointed (usually) experts tell us how much romance and intimacy we need, our stress levels, red wine, caffeine, vitamins, alcohol, and how much time we spend in our gardens, with our cameras or out fishing -- every thing we do seems to affect our life spans and health.

My question is not "Is this advice valuable or not?" It's pretty clear exercise and healthy foods, but not too much food, are essential . . . even if we have nurses and doctors who smoke, psychiatrists who drink, and a lot of intelligent people who continually do the opposite of what they recommend.

Optimizing our health is a given -- who doesn't want good health? Apart from hypochondriacs, or tiresome in-laws, most people take no pleasure in being ill or in chronic pain.

However, the question of a long life is questionable. Why is long life a good thing?

A long life with poor health is obviously not wonderful, nor is a long life in prison, even in those jails we construct for ourselves over our lifetimes. Otherwise we all believe longevity is a positive thing. Why?

Or, better than asking "why?", shouldn't we wonder why these experts aren't telling us how to make a long life a positive and beneficial thing?

Will eating more salad and fresh fruit fill our long life with benefits (benefits other than persistence)? Will running a marathon or daily workouts add content to our lives?

They won't.

It's easy to picture an unhappy someone eating fresh local vegetables, and crying while they do so. It wouldn't be a contradiction to see a jogger wiping tears, as well as sweat, from her eyes.

These experts offer only half the formula for a good life; not only do we want it long and healthy, we'd like it to be largely happy. And what brings a happy life?

There's the question. Most consumers accept that a long life is a good thing in itself, happy or not. But does that ring true? Isn't this why people commit suicide -- they no longer see a reason to keep going. They may be in good shape, healthy, and have longevity genes, but a long and unhappy life seems more a punishment than a goal.

Of course, there are many experts on being happy -- they include Buddhists and New Age spiritualists, as well as cancer survivors, marriage councilors, and life-coaches. Tons of self-help books offer steps to a happy life.

All this choice is good, but no one is explaining why a long life is a good thing in itself. It isn't self-evident, and all the filling-the-vacuum advice remains just that: filling a big hole.

Aren't we focusing on the vehicle and not the trip itself?

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/06.10