And Then We Were (Ninety-) Three

outliersOne of my happiest reading experiences was coming across Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which starts with an essay on the Pennsylvania town of Roseto. You can read the whole essay here, but the basic idea is an epidemiologist got to wondering why a town of sedentary, overweight, Italian immigrants who ate a very high fat diet were having so many fewer heart attacks than Americans as a whole–were, in fact, very healthy and impressively happy. 

Turns out what these people in Roseto had going for them was a roaringly warm-hearted sense of community. They were deeply connected to each other, thrived in each other’s company, and protected one another from life’s bumps and dips. The magic ingredient in their lives was love, and it mattered for more than their lipid panel results.

greaseSimilarly, Harvard psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer, PhD, has proven some interesting things about not only the people around us affecting our wellbeing, but the environment itself, and the way we relate to it. In her “monastery experiment,” she piled a bunch of geezers into a bus and for a week, housed them in a monastery made over to reflect the world as it was when these guys were young. The TV (black and white with rabbit ears), the radio programs, the magazines, movies, and clothing were all “back in the fifties.”

The-King-elvis-presley-35046788-620-430She split her subjects into two groups. Half of the men were to simply enjoy the paraphernalia of an earlier part of their lives, and to reflect on those years. The other half were to pretend they were their younger selves. So… whaddya think? Broken hips, asthma attacks? Accidents on the dance floor?

Nope. After a week lost in the fifties, “Both groups were stronger and more flexible. Height, weight, gait, posture, hearing, vision–even their performance on intelligence tests had improved. Their joints were more flexible, their shoulders wider, their fingers not only more agile, but also longer johnny-mathis-650-430and less gnarled with arthritis. But the men who acted as if they actually were back in 1959 showed significantly more improvement.”   

Turns out, you might not be what you eat, at least entirely. You might also be what you dwell on. I’m encouraged by this. I dwell on love stories, on characters who struggle hard to become the best people they can be, who defy the odds to grab the brass ring of honor, and earn their way to a committed, healthy, loving relationship. I dwell on AxelXhighXresthe overwhelming loveliness of my natural surroundings. I dwell on the joy of hanging with my readers on social media, and with the cats on my porch.

I still ended up with pneumonia a few years ago, but I shook it off and caught that plane to Scotland. I’m overweight, I’m not young, I’m the proud of owner of one rarely presentable house.

The work of Gladwell, Langers and others tells me not to be too stressed about those facts. What’s in my heart, what’s in my head, can matter as much as what’s in my mirror or my medical file. I’m not advocating medical negligence, but I am happy that what thoughts I choose to emphasize, what company I choose to keep, and what love I focus on in my life grismatters too!

To one commenter, I’ll send an audio version of Outliers. What’s an aspect of your younger self you’d like to keep vital? Is there a physical way to represent that in your life–a photo, a framed certificate, a sound track? 

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20 comments on “And Then We Were (Ninety-) Three

  1. I found an old photo of my myself, husband, daughter and corgis Bear and Irish. The photo was taken at a friends house. It’s a simple photo showing family. It captured a special time in our lives when life was a bit simpler.

    Sometimes, I would like to turn the clock back ten years when home and family and the corgis were most important. I miss my Dad, my corgi buddies and their friendship as well as afternoons at the beach, trips to the library and burgers on the grill. Life seems so busy now– senior year of college, LSATS, law school application, working both jobs– wonder what I will remember about this fall and winter ten years from now?

    Looking forward to Axel!! The first few chapters posted are fabulous. And love the tie in with Gervaise from the Winter anthology.

    • You forget that there’s also a somewhat vague, but still notable tie-in with the Windhams through Abigail 🙂 Reminds me of the last book’s (i.e. Matthew’s) tie-in with the Lonely Lords through Theresa 😀

      • You people… you know my characters better than I do! I got an email today from somebody asking me about Thomas Benning… I couldn’t place him. Aaron Benton? Thomas Jennings? Nope… he’s a minor character in Trenton’s story. Might not remain minor indefinitely though…

  2. I miss dancing (ballet). I gave a pre-lecture on two ballets for a local symphony a few weeks ago. As I was preparing the lecture, realized how much I miss it! My career lasted shorter than we all expected (due to an ankle injury)but I loved it…the hard work, the sense of being one with the music and even (a bit)the catty people!

    I do a bit of dance history stuff along with my choral work so I am not totally out of it. I DO NOT miss the painful feet however LOL!

    • Of all the creatives and performers, nobody suffers as much physically for as long, for as short a career and as little pay as the dancers. They are truly passionate…

      But I’m glad you found music, too!

  3. I’m going to claim that I am still my younger self (Hey, I’ve still got a couple of years before I hit 40). That being said, I can’t think of much prior to now that I miss doing.

    One thing I hope to carry with me through to the end is physical activity. I think it helps keep me sane. I love what I do and the people I do it with. It’s obvious staying active is beneficial at any age. I plan to do what I currently do for as long as possible. But at the same time I know that things change. Trends come and go. People move and gyms close. I’ll cross those bridges when I get to them.

  4. That is such an encouraging post, and I especially appreciate it since I just was weighed at the doctor’s office, and wow, was it a surprise. I’ve been doing a lot of emotional eating because my mobility has been painful and limited for about a year. I’ve been used to a steady weight gain of 3 or so pounds a year – not 17. Oy.

    I guess I want to keep my sense of wonder, since you asked, but coincidentally, I actually came to share what my son was telling me about today. Please look up dung beetles and the Milky Way. Apparently these creatures navigate by the moon or by starlight, and for some reason, particularly at this season, I am just awed by how God put us all together.

    Blessings to you and your family.

  5. I used to live In Japan, and loved traveling to other countries and knocking about in them. Now I mostly do that in films and novels!

    • I went about 30 years without leaving the country (but for a nip down to Brazil to see my sister and her family). I’m LOVING the latitude I have now to travel… it’s not cheap, but I think it’s good for the world citizenship.

  6. I actually keep friends 🙂 I have a close friend (who lives far away) that I email with nearly every day. He’s known me since I was 18… thru ups and downs… kids, relationships, grandkids, good times and bad. He reminds me what it was like when I was younger and knows what it’s like now (I think I do the same for him)…

    • I hope we all have a friend like that, somebody who knew us and our world back when. Siblings can sometimes fill this role, and they often end up knowing longer than anybody else, even our spouses and parents. Lucky me, I’m one of seven!

  7. I used to move from country to country wherever the work took me. I’m working on getting my health back while take steps to be mobile again. And I WILL have cats. Just as soon as I settle safely into wherever I make my new nest.