I find chapter 2 similar to chapter 4 where the “conscientious and prudent” of the former are similar to the “serious” participants of the latter. Not surprising of this book/study, researchers found that the positive characteristics, in this case those with a more cheerful and optimistic personality/outlook, were actually correlated with lesser longevity compared to those with the (subjectively) “less” desirable outlook (e.g. seriousness). Perhaps my favorite quote from chapter 4 comes early on, on page 34, “Healthy people are happy but happy people are not necessarily healthy.” The reality is that often times the cause of happiness and healthiness are due to other factors, rather than the two being completely contingent on one another. This is why we see millions in the US alone who are obese but who is to say they are not happy—because many of them are. Ironically for many, the comfort and contentment some have with their bodies and eating what they please and maintaining that unhealthy lifestyle is what keeps many happy. This illusory optimism, this “This is what makes me happy and I’ve made it thus far while doing it, I think I’ll be fine…” is what results in shorter lifespans because the unhealthy lifestyle is normalized in their mind.
This topic hits home for me because both of my parents are overweight. My brother and I are both division one athletes and have been health conscious, superiorly active individuals since middle school. Our father, who at one point was a body builder and leaner and stronger than my brother or I have ever been in our lives, is the one who taught us much of what we know in regards to eating healthy—yet he continues to eat poorly now. Our mother knows she should workout more but she figures she’ll be fine because she doesn’t eat “that much” anymore, but she still eats desserts almost everyday… I’ll stop before I go further, I love my parents but I can’t help but worry. My brother and I try to help, but just haven’t yet broken through to them holistically unfortunately.
This worry I mentioned brings me to catastrophizing (as mentioned in chapter 5), which I personally do have a tendency to do occasionally, but at the same time, I am still a rather cheerful, optimistic guy… Which before reading this book, I would have thought is a good thing because the two offset, right? But apparently I’m crippling my longevity by the second, so after some introspection and perhaps some meditation I’ll see what I can change so I can stay alive longer. That said, if you’re reading this, please do not fear that I would ever consider the great extremes that some of the Terman participants apparently chose. I’m not even going to name the action because I can’t fathom such an ending for my life. When I say I “catastrophize” sometimes, I mean like I might shed a gangster tear or two when I do poorly on an exam or assignment of some sort; I’ll feel pretty low and perhaps be much less talkative for the rest of the day at the longest, but then I go to sleep and wake up happy and ready to face the world again for a new day. At that point, it is in the past and it is important to use failures as learning points. If sleep stops working as an antidote then I might have a problem but until then, we’re good.