Last week, I went to visit a 101-year-old who has been in my study for more than 90 years. As the New Year was approaching, I asked him whether he makes New Year's resolutions? “No, of course not” he answered. Never has, never will.
You might figure that it is useless to make future plans when you are over 100, but that's not the point. You could say the same thing about 80-year-olds, some of whom will live another two decades in good health! And, it is not that making plans is a bad idea; rather, it is that New Year’s resolutions often can be a dreadful trap.
In the Longevity Project, we have been studying over 1500 bright Americans who were first examined as children in the 1920s. They were followed for their whole lives, and we have evaluated how well they aged and how long they lived. We ask: who lives long, healthy, and productive lives, and why? The remarkable findings continually surprise us, and inform our own lives as well.
By their nature, New Year’s resolutions highlight our failures and disappointments. If overweight, we vow to lose weight. If we drink or smoke or dissipate too often, we vow temperance. If we watch too much TV or too much Facebook, we think about which screens we can silence. In all these cases, we are focusing on the problems! A bad idea.
Our studies on The Longevity Project, and the example of the 101-year-old participant, reveal a better way. Throw away those restrictive New Year’s Resolutions and instead do more of the good things in your life. If you have good friends, see them more often. If you have an active hobby you like, whether hiking or cooking or gardening or skiing, do more of it. If you're in a club or music group or religious organization, do more for and with others. If you have a partner or favorite relative, deepen the love. For my 101-year-old friend and participant, it now includes working on a book, writing a musical, entertaining his wife, and raising money for medical research, among many other ongoing things. These are not new “resolutions” but rather steps along a well-established enjoyable pathway. He joined his favorite club in 1937.
Notice that this lesson of The Longevity Project boils down to doing more of the healthy and worthwhile things that you love doing anyway. It is so much easier and more effective than the dreaded RESOLUTION list. You probably won't have startling results by March or April, but then again, you probably would be off your newly resolved diet and gym regimen by then anyway. Instead, the small but fun steps taken now increase our chances of fulfilling lives across the decades. And for most of us, it is a long way to age 101.
If you are interested, The Longevity Project was recently published in paperback edition by Plume (see http://www.howardsfriedman.com/longevityproject/ ) and is available on Kindle and Nook. The book also contains self-assessment quizzes to help you figure your current trajectory.
Copyright © 2013 Howard S. Friedman, all rights reserved.
Photo by 22dragon22burn Via Creative Commons (The official start of 2013 in Times Square on New Year's Eve).