What can we do to maximize our control over our lives so that we can live long healthy, have a long healthspan (disease and suffering free period) within that long lifespan, without visiting doctors and hospitals, hoping and trying not to fall sick and even if we do, avoid becoming a burden to those around us and society at large?
It starts by accepting the concept of death and preparing for it, but living actively as long as we are alive. Yes, we all have to die, but we don’t have to die, languishing and suffering. We can die on our own terms, living an active life to the extent we can, without being dependent on others, and without having to listen to people giving unnecessary advice on how to age “gracefully”.
“Graceful” ageing is ageing the way society wants you to; being presentable, not being a burden to those around you, being available to be shown off to your younger relatives and their friends, but without making a nuisance of yourself, conforming to the expectations of those around you.
”The outlaw glamour that comes from being on the wrong side of the Zeitgeist is one of the quiet pleasures of ageing.” Janan Ganesh (writing about W.G. Seabald) in the FT, 11/12 December, 2021.
Screw “graceful ageing”. I would rather age ungracefully, than have to behave in ways that my children or those around me believe is the “correct” way to age. I would rather embrace an active, fighting ageing plan, with the understanding that since we are all going to die, and having lived so far following most rules and societal obligations, I would rather live on my own terms, trying to be as healthy in body and mind as possible, and with the freedom afforded by that health, indulge in whichever activity I want, sinful or not, conforming to societal ideals or not, kicking out wokeness and embracing the pleasures life has to offer. Irrespective of what our Eastern philosophies say…you only live once. I would like to live that life well.
This also means you have the right to not take care of your children’s children, just because society assumes that you as a grandparent should sacrifice yourself to the altar of your childrens’ careers and help bring up their children (your grandchildren), so that your children can go to work and party and apparently have more fulfilling lives. Go ahead and do this, if you truly want to and it gives you joy. But you don’t have to, if you don’t want to. Once your children are grown, they and their children are no longer your responsibility, unless it gives you joy to be an active part of their lives.
Pankaj Mishra in Run and Hide says, "Still, I dared not imagine what we would be like, when we were in our seventies and eighties, when meaning leaks away from sex, beauty, art, family and nation; when we grow dull, old and sour, tormenting and boring everyone around us…"
This echos what Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel wrote in 2013 in The Atlantic. His essay was titled “Why I Hope to Die at 75…”, the premise being that most of us would have achieved most of what we wanted to, by that time, and if death were to come for us, we should accept it willingly, rather than fight unnecessarily and prolong a diseased life.
There is no point living a miserable prolonged life, if you can’t enjoy the pleasures that being alive offers. And that is what Atmasvasth is all about. Taking control of whatever we have control over and trying to be as healthy as possible, until it is out of our hands.
For this, we need the following.
1. Financial independence in all respects, especially from children and other relatives, perhaps even spousal.
2. Remaining fit as long as possible, mentally and physically by following the Atmasvasth or any other similar guide to live long, healthy.
3. Keeping your friendships alive and active.
4. Staying active…traveling, writing, reading…and keeping social media at arm’s length, controlling it rather than letting it control you.
Happiness and health go hand in hand. Money and financial independence matter; a base level of wealth or income that takes away our need to bother about basic issues such as food, clothing, shelter, makes a big difference to our levels of happiness and health.
Relevance and purpose matter. If your life is relevant to even just one person in this world, it makes living worth the effort. If you have purpose in life, it gives you the drive to be engaged, to get up in the morning and get through the day with something to look forward to at all times.
Loneliness can hit us hard as we age. When people around us start dying or leaving, it is tough to make new friends and social connections and if we are not able to overcome loneliness, we can die early, miserably. We need to somehow find a way to overcome loneliness…being alone and being lonely are two different things entirely.
There is a lot of talk these days on prolonging life, how the person who will live to the age of 150 years is already among us and how by tweaking the way our cells age, we can delay ageing or perhaps even stop ageing for some period of time. Some even believe that while the body is a temporary shell, we can perhaps download our brain and consciousness into a singularity that will allow our minds to stay alive and/or inhabit other bodies and brains in the future.
None of this will happen in our lifetime, though we are living longer and longer each decade, partly due to medical advances, but mainly due to significant improvements in our living standards and environment. What we can therefore aim to do, is to live and age healthfully, using the traditional knowledge gained over the past few millenia and the new knowledge from modern medicine over the last 200 years, to keep ourselves healthy in body and mind, as far as possible, on our own. Hence “Atmasvasth”.
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