Chapters 14 & 15 with epilogue

Chapter 14 offered an interesting perspective on the experience of soldiers and other war participants in regards to longevity and overall life experiences. I was surprised to read about the different ways in which war can affect people, because I admit I had only considered it from the point of view of the soldiers who actually participate, before reading this chapter. However, I was fascinated by the comparisons made between soldiers who served overseas and the veterans who only served on the home front. I could have likely guessed that those who served overseas would endure more PTSD than whose who did not, but to be more than one and a half times as likely to die in any given year after the war was a shocking and saddening statistic to read about. I can understand why a “more alien and disturbing situation” leads to worse health later on in life, but this made me wonder why this is the case — and whether the “alien and disturbing” situations have to happen to the soldiers themselves, or if merely witnessing these acts would cause the same amount of PTSD and deteriorated health in the future.

Another intriguing part about this chapter was the finding that most cigarette smokers avoid getting lung cancer from the help of their genes — it goes to show how powerful our genes really are. Finally, it was compelling to read that the psychological stress of war is not what directly leads to a person’s health being threatened. Instead, these health threats can be attributed to the unhealthy patterns that follow the war. This amazed me because I feel as though we are always focusing on the psychological effects war can have on a person, but not necessarily what these psychological effects, such as stress, may actually lead to, such as drinking or relying on drugs to combat these post-war struggles.

Before reading Chapter 15, I had only briefly heard of these “polypills” and heard them be referenced in certain TV shows. I have actually seen similar “cure-all” pills being sold in Medellin, Colombia, where I go annually with my family. The shocking part is that I also witness lines full of people waiting to buy such pills because they believe what they are being told without even getting a chance to read the labels on these capsules. If there were any chapter of this book I could print out and distribute to people, I am sure it would be this one. Far too often, I believe people fail to acknowledge how different we all are. I commonly hear people advocating for “embracing our differences,” but what they are referring to is our physical features. I think that if we payed equally as much attention to our biological differences, and the fact that we cannot all take one identical pill that will solve all of our problems, these lines in Colombia, and elsewhere, would be nonexistent.

I am overjoyed that the studies conducted on the Terman participants allowed researchers to reach numerous valid conclusions. It was a captivating study to learn about throughout this semester and I think the most effective tool the authors used was their constant use of Terman participant examples. My favorite way of learning new things is through stories, as I am sure applies to many others, and this is what allowed me to remember many of the findings from this study throughout the book. I think that there are still too many people out there who do not truly believe in the effects mental illness can have on a person. Simply labeling someone as “crazy” and admitting him or her to a mental institution, as was commonly done in the past, is no longer acceptable for an endless amount of reasons, many of which the Longevity Project can help explain. It is important to acknowledge that the same people who undergo some of the most tragic events in life can also be the people who live the longest, as was the case with many of the Terman participants. What is important is how a person deals with the stress and trauma in their life, which leads back to the quote I provided at the beginning of this semester when Dr. Nonterah asked us to share what our favorite quote was with a partner. “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it” — something I now actually know has been scientifically proven in many cases. No matter how complex these patterns of persistence can become, what matters is that a person strives to overcome their battles, which I find thoroughly inspiring.

As I read through the Epilogue, I was relieved to know that the Terman participants’ lives were useful for research purposes and that the findings of the authors are being tested today. It’s also good to know that we tend to overestimate the role of genetics when it comes to illness, but I think it’s still extremely important to take family history into account. However, I disagree with the second “core error” about health, because I do think health recommendations made by physicians are essential for patients to follow. Yes, these health recommendations may not always be followed precisely, but after complicated surgeries, I am sure many patients value their lives much more than they did before and are willing to do anything to remain healthy after being at risk of dying. I believe the approach taken with the Terman participants was interesting, in that they never received any such “list” of health recommendations and were encouraged to find their own unique pathways toward health.

As for lists, I think it depends what the list is based on and who the list is given to, in order to assess how effective it truly is. For example, the authors argue that lists are generally oversimplified and that these oversimplified recommendations are worse for patients, but this does not apply to every list of goals or resolutions that has ever been made. I think this is something that really depends on the person, because I know that if I make a list of descriptive, defined goals for myself, with elements such as date and time, I will be inclined to follow it in the days to come — and even the future, as I like to track my progress. Overall, many of the conclusions found by the authors seemed practical to me, but it is inspiring to know that as humans, we are essentially in charge of our longevity. I hope that as the studies based on the Terman participants continue to be examined, more narrow conclusions can be drawn from future research. These conclusions will contribute immensely to the growing field of Health Psychology.

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