Stan's World - Doing good can lead to living well
February 15, 2022
Recently, a friend and I engaged in a fairly profound conversation. He wondered what he was going to leave behind after he died. He asked me about his contribution to society and how to assess the good that he did. I told him the question is one I’ve heard before. Frankly, it’s one I’ve periodically asked myself.
To quote my late mother, when you reach senior status, we’re ‘nearer than further,’ with less time in front of us than we’ve already lived. Thus, it’s obvious why a senior might ask a question of this nature. Religious beliefs may play a role in some self-assessments. For others, this type of moral accounting may be self-reflective, as they add up the pluses and minuses on their personal balance sheet.
Legacies aside, there actually is a significant reason why we all should be interested in doing good work. As heard on a recent podcast hosted by Christine Benz of Morningstar1, Laura Carstensen, psychologist and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, notes “one of the surprising contributors to life expectancy. . . has been purpose in life. Those people who feel like they matter to a cause or to other people, to their families, those people who have a real sense of strong purpose, live longer than people who don’t….The people who say ‘There’s a reason for me being here,’ are the ones who do better and live longer.”
When it comes to living a long and healthy life, it’s relatively easy to identify the most obvious do’s and don’ts: routine exercise, no smoking, limited alcohol intake, reasonable diet, regular medical and dental care. Of note, genes play a relatively small role in our longevity, though we often point to elderly parents and centenarian aunts and uncles when calculating our own durability. Whenever I remark that my mom passed at 98, “You come from good genes” is a typical refrain. While that might be true, it doesn’t mean I’m going to live to 98. (But if I do make it to 98, and I’m still writing Stan’s World, the commentary should be interesting.)
The idea of living a more purposeful life is one I’ve explored for years, and I’ve frequently shared my thoughts about charitable work in this newsletter. Little did I know that a byproduct of doing good is that we might also live longer.
Of course, there are some people who truly do not have time to do more than what life has already handed to them. To those I say you will be able to give to others at some point in the future. (And if you’re already in a caretaker role, for example, there’s no more to give.) To the rest of us, I say that having a purpose in life is more than being a responsible parent, loyal spouse, good friend, successful business owner, or hard-working employee. Finding time to matter to others – to matter to strangers – is incredibly fulfilling. The fact that you might even live longer is icing on the cake.