Looking at the current climate of marketing and scientific study, one would probably assume that everyone wants to live forever.
We’re bombarded daily with ads for products and services that will improve longevity, and with endless news stories about studies designed to scientifically determine how we can avoid dying for as long as possible. Then there are the regular interviews with centenarians that purport to have found the secret to long life.
Meanwhile, in the wellness industry we’re fascinated with talk about life extension and we embrace related ideas, envisioning a future in which consumer genomics and cybernetics will indefinitely prolong lives.
But are we sure that’s what people actually want? A new study examines that question and the results, as you might have already guessed, are somewhat surprising.
For the study, published in the December 2017 issue of the Journal of Aging Studies, University of Kansas gerontologist David J. Ekerdt and fellow researchers interview 90 participants were 90 people (30 each from Germany, China, and the U.S.) aged 62 and over, who considered themselves retired, about whether they aspire to live longer.
More than a third, 33 of the 90, did not express a desire for a longer life. A larger number, 43 of the 90, said that they would like to live longer, but only if they stayed reasonably healthy and maintained a good quality of life. Fourteen participants expressed a desire to live longer without that caveat.
Psychology Today quotes one 84-year-old woman as saying, “I’d like to go tomorrow.”
Interestingly, Psychology Today reports that those who did not express a desire to live longer weren’t necessarily in poor health. Rather, some simple felt they had lived long enough. An 84-year-old man reportedly said, “I’ve had a full enough life. I don’t know what I’m going to add to it. It’s pleasant enough, but I don’t know that I’m going to be adding anything of any grand scale.”
Of the second group, a 69-year-old man reportedly said, “As long as I’m healthy, I’m going to keep going. If my health were to change and my days are filled with discomfort or the lack of ability to engage in life to any extent, then you know…”
And a 73-year-old woman talked about an “invalid” who “can’t do anything” and said, “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
According to Science Daily, Ekerdt said the responses indicate that people want remain in the “third age” of active retirement and primarily independent living instead of the “fourth age,” which “typically involves more vulnerability and decline.”
He points out that public health advocates and gerontologists should focus on life quality rather than quantity.
Spas and wellness advocates might also consider their messaging when it comes to longevity, particularly when it comes to appealing to older adults. Not just selling something that will make you live longer – but how it will make living longer a pleasant experience.
“Slogans like ‘add life to years, not just years to life,’ appear to match intentions from elders in three nations,” Ekerdt said, “because they are saying something that appears to come from deep in human culture.”
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