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March 6, 2014

Are You Your Own Person? Self-Determination and Longevity

self-determination and longevitySelf-Determination and Longevity

People feel like they are losing control of their lives. I think some of it has to do with the Big Nanny government model our country is trending towards. Few people really want to be told how to live their lives, but that’s what’s happening right in front of us.

(BTW- one of the easiest ways for government to control people is through health care – that’s what the Affordable Care Act is mostly about, at least in my opinion –  further government control of your life. Watch this discussion on self-determination and socialized medicine from Ronald Reagan in 1961 – I suggest you listen to the last half first starting at 5:25).

More of my patients are becoming financially strapped with the prolong downturn in the economy and that has led to increased stress in their lives contributing to more illness and straining family and marital relations. There have been surveys that more and more now believe the American Dream is no longer obtainable – that people no longer control their own destiny. How unfortunate. It’s turns out that self-determination and longevity go hand in hand. A lack of control is unhealthy as highlighted by this recent study published in Health Psychology

The study out of Brandeis University and the University of Rochester showed that individuals with higher perceptions of control over their lives had lower mortality rates. This was more true among those with less education. In fact, among the less educated, the mortality rates were three times lower in those with higher perceived levels of control compared to those with lower sense of control. Low education itself is a risk factor for higher mortality rates. But among the less educated that increased risk was more than wiped out amoung those with higher sense of control of their lives.

Previously, we’ve written about the importance of conscientiousness and longevity – that conscientiousness seems to be the most important personality trait determining longevity. Conscientiousness and perception of self-determination seem to go hand-in-hand and I suspect represent two sides of the same coin.

To me it makes sense that individuals with higher perceptions of self-determination live longer – such a condition spawns hope that tomorrow will be better than today. And with hope all becomes possible. It makes working hard, making sacrifices, and preparing for the future easier. We are more energized when we control our own path and that spills over into all aspects of our health and life.  If tomorrow might be better why wouldn’t you eagerly look forward to it?

Nowadays more feel that the best days of this country are behind us and it’s a depressing thought. And, more feel that their own best days are behind them as well. And, that is even more depressing. That’s a rough way to live out the remainder of life – makes it tough to get out of bed if it is felt today will be worse than yesterday. And, the physiologic changes that occurs to our minds and body as result of such hopeless thinking exact a toll on our health.

Confidence (quiet and humble I hope) and self-determination have never been much of an issue for me, though, there certainly have been times of doubt, and there have been times when I haven’t had as much control of my situation as I would have liked. And, I certainly haven’t always received what I wanted.

But, I’ve learned that if you work on what you do control, stay true to yourself, have proper intentions, and if you keep plugging along things eventually turn out as they should – maybe not as you want, but as they should – and that means many times they turn out better than what you wanted. That is something John Wooden, the great basketball coach at UCLA used to teach – that we should pray that things turn out as they should, not as we want. Our own desires frequently fall short of what is possible. We frequently settle for less than what is possible and even what we deserve; the point being don’t sell yourself short.

Are You Your Own Person?

For me a powerful moment related to self-determination occurred at age five and has really shaped my life since. I had an “eureka” moment.

Many of my relatives were over for a holiday house party or some type celebration. We were all crammed in a little bungalow. Some sporting event was on the black and white television. It was 1965-66 and I was not yet six (we moved to a new house when I was six). I have 25 cousins and I’m one of the younger ones.

Anyway, I recall looking around the house seeing cousins of various sizes and ages. And, I saw my uncles. I knew they each had this thing called a “job” though I didn’t know what they actually did. I looked around the room at them – cousins and uncles, then looked at myself. And, I looked around at all of them a second time, and I again looked at myself. And, then the whole circle of life concept hit me. I realized in a flash of a second that I was a “separate and distinct entity” just like each of them. I was a unique individual. I was my own person. And, someday I would be 10 years old, then 13, then 16, and someday I would even be really old, and so on.

And, I realized in that moment of self awareness that I would have a chance to be whatever I wanted to be.

That’s an awesome feeling – a feeling all should have. At the age I wanted to be an astronaut. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But, knowing at that young of an age that I had that power, that control, that self-determination to shape my own future is something that has made all the difference. Now, whether I live longer than others is yet to be determined, but it really doesn’t matter. The quality of life that comes with such awareness of self-determination is award enough.

We each are our own person. We each have more control of our circumstances than we might think, but some just don’t know that. Don’t be one of them. Take control. Remain hopeful. Stay true to yourself with a heart of pure intentions. And, things will turn out as they should. You might even live a longer life – but that is secondary.

Oh yeah, watch out for politicians who want to control your life for you. Perhaps Churchill said it best about government and control of human life with this – Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy. It’s inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery. 

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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