But Dr. Kenneth Pelletier, authority on longevity, disputes the geneticists. “Good genes give you an edge,” he says, “but this doesn’t account for people who live 30 to 40 years beyond the average life expectancy. A strong sense of purpose and commitment to higher values, as well as lifelong physical and mental activity, play a more important role in longevity than purely biological factors such as hormonal changes.”
He asserts that the single most important predictor of longevity is enthusiasm for life: staying busy, being curious, feeling that you are accomplishing something worthwhile.
Proof that the too-busy-to-die theory is more than wishful thinking can be found in the long and productive lives of the Founding Fathers.
Life expectancy at birth in colonial America between 1700 and 1775 was 35 years (today, for men born in the U.S. in 2018, it is 78 years; for women, 82). But since life expectancy is defined as the number of years that an individual of a given age may expect to live, once the colonial American reached 21, odds favored his living another 20 years. And the longer he lived, the better his chance of living to a ripe old age.
Nevertheless, in 1775, a mere 2 percent of the populace was over 65. Yet an amazing number of Founding Fathers, all born in the perilous 18th century, achieved a longevity far beyond the average. Our first 10 presidents lived an average of 77.4 years.
Some might argue that the Founders must have had long-lived ancestors (some did, but most did not), a privileged background (fewer than half did), or superior medical care (it did not exist for anyone, rich or poor).
Perhaps Benjamin Franklin had the best formula for achieving longevity. In his 20s, he compiled a list of Thirteen Virtues that would govern his life. Virtue No. 6 was Industry: “Lose no time. Be always gainfully employed.”
Indeed, the Founding Fathers were industrious. (If you know the modern Broadway hit, “Hamilton,” you know that Alexander Hamilton was a very busy guy. He had an amazing work ethic and extolled the benefits of rising very early in the morning to get to work.)
They were a diverse group: aristocrats, common sorts; college graduates, autodidacts; short-tempered, imperturbable; neat, sloppy; stingy, generous. Some smoked; most drank moderately, mainly wine. Some exercised diligently; others, halfheartedly. But they all had one thing in common: They saw life as a heaven-sent gift, a gift to be utilized, not wasted.
Why don’t we all try this and see how it works out?