If it isn’t supplements, it’s green glop. If it isn’t CBD oil, it’s Hatha yoga. It if isn’t Hatha yoga it’s immersing yourself in Arctic waters.
Every day I read more articles that purport to offer the magic path to the fountain of youth. If I keep Googling longevity secrets, I will find plenty of snake oil salesmen’s promises side by side with research papers by formidable institutions on what keeps us young—or whatever it is we’re seeking.
A WebMD article states that those of us with a centenarian in our family tree have a genetic boost that can even help neutralize some of our less-helpful habits.
Yes. Well, sort of.
It depends, doesn’t it?
Genetics can’t save you much more than they can prematurely “grave you.” Ahem.
I have a slew of mid-90-ers in my family history. That doesn’t give me the go-ahead to make chocolate-covered donuts part of my daily diet. Genetics aren’t a guarantee, nor are they a death sentence. They’re suggestions. In some instances, strongly worded ones.
You and I, as we gather years, can spend a lot of time poring over articles, pouring potions down our throats, and potentially making ourselves much older by worrying about the passage of time.
We can travel to the world’s much vaunted but quickly disappearing Blue Zones, where folks have very long lives. We still have to do the work: eat well, exercise, have a purpose, and a social circle.
I just have to wonder that if by constantly chasing the Next Big Thing, we might be missing The Very Big Thing right in front of us. A new grandchild. An opportunity to spend a week in Paris. That guy who keeps flirting with us when we have coffee at Starbucks. That new art class at the community center, which we could afford if we’d stop paying for expensive face creams that don’t work.
It’s time to stop obsessing. I can think of a few things that might be a better expenditure of our time. It strikes me, as I research, write, and laugh at the magical cures—the bracing cold water dips, the commitment to board games (which have some real benefit for your gray matter, but so does orienteering, which is even better, but I digress)—that the real point is to relax, already.
Yes, I work out hard. Yes, I eat very carefully. Yes. I build new friendships and have a larger purpose. I do a great many of the things to help me live well.
However, I do none of them specifically to ward off the aging process.
I do them because they feel good. I feel strong. Happy. Engaged. I feel richly alive. Energetic. Because doing them is an act of respect for this body. Because I have work to do and places to go and people to love and animals to massage and a world to explore.
When tired, I rest. When hungry, I eat. When I need a break, I drag my ancient teddy bear Gerry to the couch, curl up with him, and nap sweetly for 20 minutes.
I listen to my body. When it wants protein, I grab a big fat spoon of peanut butter, some eggs, or a big handful of almonds. When it wants something sweet, most times it’s fruit. Sometimes it’s chocolate or Krispy Kreme and damn the little bit of sugar. Most of my meals are on the best-seller list of how to avoid diabetes but I like this stuff. Love it, in fact. That’s not a diet. Nor am I giving up much.
My point is that most happy folks I know have found a way of being that allows them to live happily. How thin they are or how rich they are both are utterly meaningless. They have come to terms with life, as well as what they have left of it.
One of my favorite tales of all time is Lonesome Dove. Augustus “Gus” McCrae—a crusty, dusty, funny, and monumentally wise aging Texas Ranger, the main character in Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel—breaks our funny bone and our heart with his homespun wisdom.
In one scene, the lovely prostitute Lorena is bemoaning having been left behind by Jake Spoon, the classic womanizing ne’er-do-well. Gus explains to her that her heartfelt desire to get to San Francisco (a very dangerous trip through high country and serious angry hostiles) is misplaced.
He says, as Lorena tears up:
“Lorie darlin’, life in San Francisco, you see, is still just life. If you want any one thing too badly, it’s likely to turn out to be a disappointment. The only healthy way to live life is to learn to like all the little everyday things — like a sip of good whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk, or a feisty gentleman like myself.”
I want to be feisty. I am feisty.
Not for my age. For being human and healthy and happy. And living vividly. Age doesn’t have a damned thing to do with it.
Nothing in this article says be like me. Nothing in this article implies criticism for any choices you’ve made or are making. All I’m saying is that the less time we spend trying to find a fix for what can’t be fixed, the more life we can live loving the simple things. Celebrating where we are.
I do have a soft bed. A roof over my head. Friends I treasure. Options, for which I am eternally grateful.
If you want any one thing too badly, it’s likely to turn out to be a disappointment.
As Gus famously said, “It’s not dyin’ I’m talkin’ about, it’s livin’.”
Thanks, Gus. That it is.
Julia Hubbel is a prize-winning journalist, professional speaker, and traveler whose work takes her on extraordinary solo adventures all over the globe. She is a disabled, decorated Vietnam Era veteran who served as a journalist and television producer-director in the Army and as chief of military protocol for the Jimmy Carter Presidential Inaugural.