Five Ways to Live Longer
by Sara Cann
Death is probably the last thing you want to think about, but save some room in your mind for it anyway: Contemplating your own mortality may actually improve your life, according to a new review in the Personality and Social Psychology Review.
How you respond to your ultimate demise depends on whether you’re consciously or subconsciously thinking about it, says study author Kenneth Vail, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Missouri. For example, as you read this article, you’re consciously thinking about your mortal end, and this dose of morbid reality may trigger your brain to formulate a plan to stave off death, he says.
“This process could motivate us to exercise more, cut the junk out of our diet, apply suntan lotion, wear our seat belt, or drive cautiously,” says Vail.
Thinking about mortality also makes you more compassionate. In the new review, Vail and his team cite a 2008 study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that found people who walked through a cemetery were more likely to stop and help strangers in need than those who were one block away from the grave site.
Now that death has your attention, it’s time to live your life the best you can so you don’t look back in disappointment when it’s time to go. Australian nurse Bronnie Ware recorded some of her patients’ top regrets when they were on their deathbeds in her new buzzworthy book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Here’s how to avoid each one.
1) The regret: Working too hard
The fix: According to a new survey conducted by Harris Interactive for JetBlue Airways, 57 percent of Americans will end the year with unused vacation days left on the table. Worried that a 2-week cruise—or just a long weekend at the lake—will nix your chances at landing a promotion? Nonsense. Tell your boss a little downtime is good for the company. Research indicates that those who go on vacation come back feeling less stressed and more productive. (Discover why you need a vacation—and how to take one right now.)
2) The regret: Keeping your feelings hidden
The fix: In her book, Ware notes that a lot of her patients suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others and, as a result, settled for a less satisfying life. But stating your opinions doesn’t have to mean conflict. In a study in Psychological Science, college students who were told that speed limit laws were about to take effect accepted and agreed with the new regulations. But when the laws were said to merely be a possibility, more students expressed outrage. Your takeaway? Be clear, firm, and direct when you express yourself. (Learn the best situations for speaking up.)
3) The regret: Disconnecting from friends
The fix: Focus on maintaining relationships with your friends and coworkers—it could tack on a few years to your life. According to a recent study of 820 working adults—most of whom were married with children—people lacking social support at work were more than twice as likely to die in the next 20 years than their more social counterparts. Read the 4 rules of workplace friendships to make the best of your 9-5 buddies, or venture to one of the manliest weekend getaways to spend some quality time with your old college pals.
4) The regret: Holding in your happiness
The fix: Turning your frown upside down could be as easy as giving people a compliment. Why? Depressed people are missing positive emotion in their lives, and according to recent research, making someone else happy can add it back in. When participants were asked to perform three good deeds a day, 94 percent showed decreases in depressive symptoms, according to a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Random acts of kindness evoke positive thoughts and alleviate negative feelings, says study author Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., author of The How of Happiness.
5) The Regret: Killing your ambitions
The fix: Do you crunch numbers all day long because that’s what your parents expected of you? Strike out on your own path before your time runs out. A Spanish study found that you’re more likely to burn out if you’re underchallenged at a job, or if you feel stuck in a career you’re indifferent about. Your move? Use your time at work to take on more projects that pique your interest, like volunteering to head up a project outside your department. In the interim, make time to beef up your social life to network and find the path to your dream job. (For some inspiration, read why Men’s Health contributing editor Steve Belanger quit his six-figure job in favor of unemployment—and why it was the best decision he ever made.)