Emotional Longevity: What REALLY determines how long you live
by Norman B. Anderson ( Appendix by P. Elizabeth Anderson)
Penguin Group, Canada : ISBN 0142003956
Based on a web of scientifically supported connections between biology on the one hand and social environment, beliefs, and emotions on the other, Dr. Norman Anderson presents a fascinating new definition of health. Our ability to find meaning in adversity, our expectations about what the future will bring, and even our willingness to disclose our traumatic experiences all impact not only our emotional wellbeing but also our biology, influencing our vulnerability to everything from the common cold to heart disease. Through the stories of many prominent figures, including Maya Angelou, Reynolds Price, and Linda Ellerbee, Anderson underscores the reality of these scientific findings, providing an essential guide to living better and longer.
At the heart of Emotional Longevity is a cutting-edge, multifaceted, visionary new definition of health that incorporates six fundamental dimensions. What, then, determines the wide differences in longevity among the physically healthy and those with medical illnesses? According to the Andersons , of special importance are our emotions and thoughts, our personal achievement and feelings of being treated fairly, how we relate to the environment and to other people, and our spiritual satisfactions.
At the core of this book is the message that we do not have to live by bread or biology alone. Beyond the usual candidates for living a long and healthy life — nutrition, genetic gifts, avoidance of accidents and diseases — these authors stress the ways in which our emotional and social lives help or hinder us in our passages through life.
The book effectively informs readers that they have a great deal of choice when it comes to the quality and length of their lives. We may not pick our parents, but we can pick our partners, our work, our friends, and our social habits. Also important are our expectations for the future and the stories we tell ourselves about our pasts. The narratives of life influence us in our choices, and in the ways we respond to set backs and to emotionally unsettling experiences.
Emotional responses, for example, are not biologically programmed. Rather, people can shape their responses in health-giving ways. Anger, hostility, for example, does not have to dominate one's responses to social events. Road rage is not the only response to aggressive drivers, and traffic jams could be a place for meditation rather than for madness. We have a choice.
At the same time, the book emphasises that certain social inequities over which we have too little control also reduce the health chances of many. One's social-economic status has effects on one's health, with poor people having poorer outcomes. There are many reasons for this correlation, including a lack of adequate health care, poor environmental conditions for growing, and anxiety over financial matters.
While this book is interestingly written with many stories to illustrate their major points, the authors have also integrated research from wide ranging health domains. This book is written to appeal both to lay people and professionals; the message is an optimistic one. For example:
What is Emotional Longevity ?
“Successful aging” is defined as experiencing minimal disease or disability until the end of life, a high level of mental and physical functioning, and a vibrant engagement in life — in other words, a combination of quantity of years and quality of life. Nevertheless, is it possible to avoid the sickness and disability that are often thought to be an inevitable part of old age? Norman Anderson says, “Yes”.
Are we missing something?
There is more at work within our bodies than simple biology. People living with illnesses and disease — ranging from heart disease to AIDS to cancer — experience a wide variety of outcomes. Coronary heart disease patients who are unmarried and have no confidants are three times more likely to die from the disease than those with partners. People recovering from bypass surgery recover much quicker if their outlook is optimistic. Post-trauma doctor visits decrease as much as 50 percent after victims begin writing about their experiences.
How can we benefit?
We can benefit by having longer life, better health, greater fulfillment; and that is just for starters. Emotional Longevity explores the connections between all the major contributors, to and detractors from, good health and long life, including:
- your expectations about the future
- how you explain things that happened in your past
- your friendships and social ties
- your education and income
- the degree of control you have in your work
- traumatic experiences you have never disclosed
- your ability to find meaning in negative life experiences
- your experience of three key negative emotions — sadness/depression, fear/anxiety, and anger/hostility.
Finally, the book is to make you feel better. It is an invitation to take a hands-on approach to developing better health and a higher sense of wellbeing. Emotional Longevity helps you not only count your blessings, but also parlay them into a longer, happier life.
About Norman B Anderson …
Norman B. Anderson PhD is the CEO of the American Psychological Association. Previously he was a professor at Harvard University 's School of Public Health , the first associate director of the National Institutes of Health for Behavioural and Social Sciences Research, and an associate professor of social and health sciences at Duke University . He regularly speaks at numerous professional conferences and at universities, and contributes to professional health journals. He recently accepted a position as editor in chief of the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Health and Behaviour. His wife, P. Elizabeth Anderson, contributed to Emotional Longevity , in Providence , Rhode Island.