This, the final chapter of The Longevity Prescription by Dr. Robert N. Butler, is all about cheerleading. The lessons have been explained and goals set along with the steps and strategies to achieve them and now it's time make a habit of the changes we need for a healthy old age. I like the final paragraph of the book:
“I want you to live longer; to accomplish that I want you to do things that rouse the quiet stream of happiness that you know is there. More than anything else, that will enhance your longevity.”
In 2009, I spent a week at Dr. Butler's Age Boom Academy in New York City where for five-and-a-half days, experts in all fields of aging - the hard sciences and the soft – presented the 12 of us with their latest findings. Butler was there throughout and it was obvious every day that he lived, and had done so for many years, in that “quiet stream of happiness.”
The phrase resonates with me. Although I'm not there at the moment, I can recall how it feels – I have lived that way from time to time when my job, personal life, health, activities and relationships were working together in harmony.
That is not to say things didn't go wrong during those periods. But because my life was generally in balance, the rough spots – for example, the deaths of three of my closest friends within 14 months – didn't throw me off my rails.
This chapter reads more like the usual run of self-help books – which doesn't make it anywhere near a bad thing – with some Butlerish aphorisms: I will do this; I can do this; I will find the time; I will pace myself; I will challenge myself. Some of them address such specifics as seeing the doctor, exercising, getting enough sleep, eating well, etc. that he discussed in detail in the earlier chapters.
I had a nice laugh at the beginning of this chapter where Butler invokes the grandfather of all self-improvement instruction, Emile Coue who was all the rage in the 1920s.
When he quotes Coue's signature line, “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better,” I heard my mother's voice. She was growing up during Coue's heyday and it must have made an impression because she often quoted that phrase, although less as an aphorism than as derision at its banality.
(Maybe that's where I got my general dislike of self-help books which, to me, seem mostly self-help for the authors to gain riches based on the bleedingly obvious.) As we work on improving habits that will improve our health, Butler suggests a minor twist on Coue: Every day, in every way, I am aging better and better.
At the end of his three-page list of resolutions, Butler talks about the deeper questions, unrelated to what is measurable such as blood pressure, waistline and glucose levels. Questions that have no right or wrong answers but do, he says, have health consequences.
”All merit your consideration and,” he writes, “if you think about these matters honestly, you will learn something about yourself.”
Personally, I find these more valuable than Emile Coue:
“If life is a treasure beyond measure, then have you used yours in a way that honors that gift?
“If love is a measure of our humanity, have you given more than you received?
“If you have posessed power in your life, have you used it to better the lives of others?
“Has your capacity for forgivness grown over the years?
“Think about compassion, suffering, knowledge, the power of art, the energy of fear, the value of flexibility.”
The Longevity Prescription is the most useful self-help book I've ever run across. It doesn't promise miracles. It doesn't trade in psychological gobbledegook. It doesn't set up Dr. Butler as a guru. Instead, there are hard facts, practical strategies and a sense throughout that within the context of one's personal health challenges, a healthy old age is achievable.
What I've done – or, rather, rediscovered while reading this – is the diet that works for me. Not to lose weight, although that is a pleasant result, but a way of eating that makes me feel better - and more content with myself for doing the right thing. I haven't conquered my sweet tooth, but I'm controlling it. And after slacking off for too long, I'm back to walking for an hour three or four times a week.
What about you? What did you get out of this series and what changes are you making?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today: Ann Favreau: Heroines