But Should You Even Want To Live Longer?

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Last week, I ​wrote about the distinction between anti-aging and longevity​, as in, the former is about preventing the obvious signs of aging (e.g., wrinkles, laugh lines, etc.) while the latter is about extending one’s actual lifespan. The topic fostered a lot of discussion (which always makes me feel extremely grateful) and when that happens, I inevitably come across a comment or thought that makes me go “hmmmm….”–in a good way, to wit:

Similarly, the following comment on my website also suggested that longevity, in and of itself, may not be the prize we think it is:

Hammer says:
May 7, 2024 at 9:31 am

Very poignant as always. I want to grow old and have as much time on this planet with my wife and my children and soak in every moment with them. And I am also focused on living a healthy life inside and out to hopefully have a good quality of life as I age. However, what I found really interesting in your commentary was the fear of you or Anthony not being there one day when you wake up. I have that fear all the time too, but I don’t associate it with old age. Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone. So, while we tend to focus on longevity, I have reframed my fear by making everyday more meaningful. I take the approach of giving my love every single day. I don’t know if I will get that opportunity tomorrow and I want to make sure that my time on this earth in this iteration is spent loving and caring for the people that matter most to me. And knowing that I spent my life experiencing that love will hopefully give me peace when my time comes.

There is so much to unpack in both these comments–and many others like it–but at bottom, they challenge the idea that extending one’s lifespan is, per se, a worthwhile endeavor. Maybe instead of focusing on living longer, we should focus on living well.

Are these two things mutually exclusive?

Not necessarily, but…

The problem is that the word “well” can mean lots of different things to different people at different times. “Well” is often interchangeable with “enjoyably” or “pleasurably,” neither of which are words I’d use to describe 45 minutes of moderate to intense cardio per week; eliminating all salt, fat, and sugar from one’s diet; adding mushrooms to your coffee (ok, I guess some people like this). In other words, at times, the things that facilitate longevity might be at odds with the phrase:

“Will ya just live a little!!”

How do we strike a balance between obsessing over living longer and plunging blindly into some hedonistic blaze of glory? How do we squeeze and collect all the juice while making sure it still tastes relatively sweet?

Not to mention the fact that the things that might prolong one’s life aren’t equally accessible to everyone:

  • An estimated 27 million Americans did not have health insurance at some point in 2022. (See ​Health Insurance Statistics and Facts, Forbes.com.​)
  • Of the top expenses adults are worried about being able to afford, unexpected medical expenses were second to gasoline or other transportation costs. (Id.)
  • Even those with healthcare insurance aren’t guaranteed adequate treatment–nearly 66% of Americans with mental health conditions reported being unable to access treatment in 2021. (See ​npr.com​.)
  • Over 23 million Americans live in what are defined as food deserts–making it infinitely harder to procure healthy food for themselves and their families.
  • One of the strongest predictors of life expectancy is high school graduation, and yet, there are an estimated 23 million people in the US age 25 and older without a high school diploma. (See ​Center for Law and Social Policy​.)

As many people pointed out, living longer is a “privilege,” as ostentatiously evidenced by the ​Bryan Johnson’s​ of this world.

So, where does that leave us?

I don’t have any interest in staying alive at any cost, especially if it means I’ll be a vegetable, hooked up to a bunch of beeping machines. However, I’d be lying if I said that the prospect of an utter deletion of my existence doesn’t frighten me. Despite all the years of Bible school and inspired sermons from dozens of pulpits, I’m simply not convinced that there’s anything that awaits after death. Extensive contemplation of total darkness, an erasure of all the things I find meaningful, of who I am… I confess I worry at my own sanity when I spend too much time thinking about these things. After all, what is the point in all of this if none of it, not even the faintest residue of the bright, wild life we live, remains?

Oddly enough, it was my attempt to construct an articulable defense of my veganism that led me down this heavy path. Is it “right” or “wrong” to participate in animal suffering? What does “right” and “wrong” actually mean? Can these concepts be divorced from “life” and “death”? And if not, what happens to morality in the face of our mortality, particularly if we conclude that our lives–all lives–are snuffed out as unceremoniously as an unremarkable candle? That even if those who outlive us might bear witness to our legacies, we, ourselves, won’t perceive any of it?

Of all the answers I’ve dug up, I was surprised to discover the one that made the most sense to me was proffered by none other than the sometimes arrogant, sometimes loony French philosopher, Albert Camus:

“[Man] knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when he glances backward over his life … in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human … he is still on the go.” (The Myth of Sisyphus And Other Essays.)

We are a product of our choices.

I’ve said the above as a way of keeping me accountable, staying mindful of the inextricability of our character from our actions. But, I’ve never thought of it, too, as a source of comfort and even joy. Even if birth and death are the immovable bookends our limited perception permits, we can fill that space with the books we choose. Some of them will make us laugh. Others will make us love. And others still will break our hearts. Thus, I not only select the books, I must take care not to damage the books that might fill your bookends. Because what Camus makes so beautifully clear is that though there is a gradient of right and wrong, the wrongest thing you can ever do is to shorten the distance from one bookend to the other–for me and for you.

And I dunno about you, but I’d like to fill that shelf with as many books as possible.

For that reason… I’m willing to cut out a little oil from my diet and hop on that blasted treadmill a few times a week!

Do you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter?

Around The Horn

In response to Aging & Longevity​:

Kyunghee says:
May 8, 2024 at 10:23 pm

Thank you for your newsletter that’s so timely. I’m in Korea right now for the first time since 1988 and coming here, I thought I would feel more Korean here but that hasn’t been the case for more reasons than one. I got a facial because I wanted to experience Korean facial and mostly because it’s more affordable than in the US. After looking at my face, immediately they asked if I wanted a whitening one. My complexion is naturally darker and I never cared, but my umma did. Growing up, she was so worried that my skin would get darker in the summer time and how I should be more mindful. All these memories came rushing in for a few moments. And it was in this moment that I understood that I am not a Korean woman here. I don’t care to have lighter skin, laser injections, and other “work” that erases who I am. As someone who is in my mid-forties, I was terrified of turning 40. I was scared of looking not looking like I am 30 anymore.

But, with witnessing a death of a friend and my appa fighting his way out of cancer, I am not thinking about how I’ll look 5 years from now.

Isn’t it a beautiful thing to show the marks of our journey than to be frozen in time?

I’m focusing on inner peace, happiness, and connection with myself & loved ones while doing work that makes a difference. It’s a blessing to feel well on the inside and that’s something no miracle cream can do. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, and getting older has made me so aware of how urgent, precious, and fragile life truly is.

Thank you again for your story & wisdom.

MGMama says:
May 7, 2024 at 12:50 pm

This topic touches home for me, so here are my unfiltered thoughts. I just turned 40 and have signs of aging that many of my friends don’t have. My husband has begged me not to touch botox, so I have left it alone and let my skin do its natural thing. The lines on my forehead and the sides of my lips are a sign of how many laughs and cries I have had in life. I have loathed my aging body enough times and have recently started approaching it with love and immense gratitude. My body has expanded and retracted 3 times from children and once from an 8 pound tumor that grew off my ovary and was removed at the age of 16. I have an eight inch thick scar that runs vertically down my belly. Children have fed off these breasts. My feet and strong legs have kept me grounded and given me countless days playing sports and exploring the world with my family. My hands have prepared meals and written papers. All of this “wear and tear” are signs of my life.

For whatever years I have left, I want to spend the time nourishing my body with love, gratitude and nutrition. And I am eternally grateful to have a husband who finds my white hairs sexy and will grab at any part of me not thinking twice about it.

Regarding longevity, I always remember this: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years.”

Thank you for always being so raw, Joanne. You are a gorgeous human, inside and out! XO

This Week’s Recipe Inspo.

One of my favorite healthy and protein-packed bowls is my Better Than Chipotle Sofritas Bowl!

sofritas bowl

What I’m…

  • Watching. After taking about a month off at the conclusion of Season 2, we are back to watching This is Us. Amazingly, it truly feels like we never stopped? And what’s even weirder is that I’m starting to feel like Jack and Rebecca are my parents…? LOLOL. Every time I see them, I instantly feel safe, even though I know how hard their path grows. Watch –>
  • Reading. I first read this essay when I was in high school. At the time, I thought it was insufferably difficult and condescending. I’ve since read this essay numerous times and each time, I feel empowered and comforted at the same time. Almost makes me wish I could learn French! Order –>
  • Loving. If you guys are on Instagram and you’ve seen my stories, then you’ll have already seen Lulu absolutely in love with her new dog bed. Made of faux fur and for small dogs, I like to call this Lulu’s “pita pocket”! She loves to either lie on top of it or get nice and snuggly inside of it. If you have a small dog too, you might want to get them their own pita pocket! Shop –>

Parting Thoughts.

“Can I ask for your advice on love?”

It was nearly midnight and though they weren’t made of glass, I was sorely hoping for an excuse to lose both my shoes. I’d been up since 7:30 am and spent virtually the entire day at networking events, starting with a women’s brunch and ending with the after-party of a glitzy gala. In order to give my poor feet some rest, I headed to the ladies lounge, where leather upholstered seating lined the walls of the waiting area before the restroom. After using the facilities, I saw a young woman seated there already, scrolling through her phone while her feet–bedecked in satin red heels to match her silk gown–rested comfortably tucked next to her rear.

5-inch heels on my vegan sling-backs!!

I sat about a yard from her, saying softly, “What a great idea, sitting here to get some rest.” She looked up from her phone and smiled, “I know!”

I got a good look, then, at her face and recognized her from many of the videos I’d seen on Instagram. “I love your work,” I added. She peered at me then, carefully, before her brows softened and she said, “Oh, thank you so much!” in that practiced way that’s hard to shed when you’ve had to say the same words to many many people in the span of a few hours. But instead of returning to her phone as I expected, she seemed eager to talk, asking me how I’d seen her work, what brought me to the gala, what I did for a living.

Which is how I found myself discussing my “top 3 things to look out for when falling in love” while the flush of toilets echoed in the background.

I’m not sure how we catapulted so quickly to this topic, having only talked to this person for 10 minutes or so, but I found her willingness to listen to my love story so refreshing, I gave her the highlights:

  • Love is intoxicating, but love is not the same thing as lifelong partnership.
  • Love works best when you know where you end and they begin.
  • Love starts with understanding that it’s not just about what you receive, but the power of what you choose to give.

I hope you find any or all of the above illuminating or reassuring. Above all, remember that your heart is precious and that it’s ok to be choosy about with whom you share it.

Wishing you all the best,

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