Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Long Life Study: Conclusions Surprising

In an article at PsychCentral.com, a nice synopsis of the Longevity Project appears.  The Conventional Wisdom of simply being happy does not apply to living a long time, according to the study.  The article is short, so I will not reproduce it here. The following words, however, struck me:
While an optimistic approach can be helpful in a crisis, “we found that as a general life-orientation, too much of a sense that ‘everything will be just fine’ can be dangerous because it can lead one to be careless about things that are important to health and long life. Prudence and persistence, however, led to a lot of important benefits for many years.
“It turns out that happiness is not a root cause of good health. Instead, happiness and health go together because they have common roots.”
It seems to me that a big part of this study's lesson--beyond what leads to living a long time--is that happiness in and of itself is not everything. If one is happy all the time, for what does he or she have left to strive? What about the pain in life? Perhaps the more n'er-do-well types live in denial, thus taking more risky behaviors.

Our consumerist culture focuses all its energy on pre-packaged happiness, that somehow when experienced, should give us all we need, but it lets us down--it's never enough, so we have to go looking for more. The everything-is-going-to-be-okay-no-matter-what attitude is an illusion, and a dangerous one. 

The thought of being "happy" 24/7 is akin to eating too many hot fudge sundaes: the first one's great, but the rest will make you sick. Too much sweetness not balanced by the savory is not good. It not only leads to a shorter lifespan apparently, but also to a life of less quality.

So, no, happiness is not the point. JOY is! They are different in that the latter flows from within a person who has had his or heart broken open in pain, yet, remained diligent in living life. It leads one to pay attention to his or her surroundings presently, not dwell in the past or long for an imagined future. The only way to deal with pain is to walk through it. 

I cannot be happy that in less than a year, I have endured the death of my Mom, one of my dogs, and a monastic friend. It sucks. My monastic friend helped me through a rather terrifying dark night of the soul (which is not depression or grief incidentally) wherein I thought I was losing it, which, praise God, I was on some level! My whole world and its place in it changed, or at least my perspective did. But I am in no way bitter, but now know a joyfulness that permeates my being, though I still miss those who died and the spiritual security I thought I had before. Having gone through such equips and inspires me to help others as well.

So, will I live a longer life because of this? I don't know, and frankly don't care. I want to live my life to the fullest in each and every moment no matter what life throws at me, knowing that this too shall pass.



Thom, SFO said...

The concept of "happiness" has always slightly evaded me.

I recommend a book (I know, I do that a lot) called "In the Spirit of Happiness," by The Monks of New Skete.

It changed my life.

Br. Yossi, CoS Cam said...

Thanks, bro! I love the New Skete folks.