We Look For Decisive Factors To Live A Long Life

Notes on the Sunday address by Dr Francis Macnab, January 4, 2015.
By John Abbate

Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

—William Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Act IV, Scene 2

Frida Kahlo, Viva La Vido, Watermelons, oil on masonite, 1954

What is the probability that you will be alive and well and reading this blog one year from now? It’s impossible to answer a question like that with any certainty; life can be unpredictable. Despite our best efforts to prevent disease and avoid risk, something gets us in the end.

The science of living longer focuses primarily on biological and lifestyle factors. A family history of cancer, for example, might increase a person’s chances of early mortality. Among the lifestyle factors, smoking is still the biggest killer—a known cause of illness and death. Half of all smokers die prematurely from illnesses attributed to the habit.

Yet, when all things are equal, when we remove biological and lifestyle risk factors from the equation, some people still live longer, recover from illness more quickly, and report greater wellbeing than others. The conclusion must be that other factors play an important role in a person’s health and their longer-term wellbeing and survival.

Dr Macnab suggests there are some things that can help us to “delay the destiny of dust”. He lists five qualities that are needed to live a longer life:

  1. Encouragement to keep searching for life’s changing meanings. Life is not a static thing; it changes over time, and the needed meaning that we find in life may have to change with it.
  2. Emotional longevity – though your life goes on, emotionally you can become stuck. When high levels of anger and anxiety correlate strongly with a higher risk of heart disease, the management of our emotions will be a major factor in how well and how long we live.
  3. A quietening of mind and spirit will contribute to a longer life – the constructive management of our discontent will help our wellbeing and our longevity.
  4. Cultivating the virtues of compassion, altruism and service. Dr Dean Ornish identifies a common thread running through the world’s religions in the teaching of compassion, altruism and service. He believes these qualities have, over the aeons, contributed to our survival as a species, and that they now contribute to our survival as individuals. Stefan Klein wrote, “The decisive factor for longer life expectancy is not that people are supported by good friends—not what we get from others—but what we give to others,” in (Klein, Survival of the Nicest, 2014).
  5. Developing expansive, life-enhancing moods and emotions.
    “In the whole life endeavour that I put to you, theology and therapy join hands,” said Dr Macnab. “Psychology and a firmly well based religion must find a life-enhancing meeting point. The pieces of life must discover the healing of wholeness.”

In this address among many others, Dr Macnab’s proposal is that psychology and spirituality go forward together, in our aim of living longer, better lives.

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