As a physician, I have been addressing your physical health and trying to offer tools for improving your physical health, mental sharpness, and emotional well being. My approach has been simple. I wanted you to have sufficient health, sharpness, and vitality so you could address the larger challenges in your life. So you could redesign your life toward arenas that offer far more meaning and much greater happiness. But, with this blog, I am going to follow my earlier advice. I am going to hit my own pause button on eating styles and our food supply. There is another crucial area of your life that I would like to address. It’s your work. Studies claim that 80-90% of Americans are not satisfied with their jobs. Are you one of those people? If you are, then beware. Your job may be killing you even more than our food supply.
Think of people like Galileo, Goethe, Goya, and Frank Lloyd Wright. What do they have in common? They all produced great work in their 70s. In more recent history think of Picasso and George Burns, doing what they loved into their 90s. Or in today’s world think of Warren Buffett or Paul McCartney, still going strong, still doing what they love. You can probably guess my central two points. Keep your brain active, challenged by new demands; and keep your activities focused on areas that invigorate your heart and mind. In short, you have to love your job; and you have to find your job stimulating, not boring and/or repetitive. Why? Because it leads to a happier life and a much longer life.
There is science behind these observations. Myelination – a process that protects the neurons – remains active well into the 60s. An active mind, focused on positive, satisfying areas of challenge, actually stimulates regeneration within your brain. There is another phenomenon that plays a crucial role. Yes, certain brain functions peak at an early age. Mathematicians make their greatest breakthroughs early in their careers. But an aging brain improves in some surprising areas, actually becoming better. Ironically, the aging brain becomes better at asking for help. Your two hemispheres communicate better as you age. The result? Increased creativity. Think of some of the great classical musicians. Their later works led to higher artistic scores for cleaner, simpler melodies.
What is the message? If you want to be happy and live longer, my prior blogs on improving your physical health are only one part of the solution. Another part of the solution (and perhaps a bigger part of the solution) is your happiness. Specifically, your happiness with your work. More and more studies reveal that your satisfaction with your job dramatically impacts your happiness and longevity. So, don’t stick with the job that is boring, repetitive, or depressing. Find a job that gives you joy. Find a job that challenges your mind with new problems. Find a job that demands a constant level of creativity – because creativity, even on its own, impacts your happiness and longevity. Once again, you have more control (than you probably realized) over how long you live. Do you want to go for those extra years? Or do you want to dig your own grave?