Longevity and Happiness
Editor’s Note.—August is largely a month, of vacations, and consequently a time for review and taking stock of one’s own real worth and importance to the world and his work. In this regard nothing will form more pleasing reading than the following optimistic, hopeful, and sane chapter by Dr. Marden. As stated previously, MacLean’s Magazine is the only Canadian magazine to which he is a regular contributor.
Dr. O. S. Marden
“THE face cannot betray the years until the mind has given its consent. The mind is a sculptor.”
“We renew our bodies by renewing our thoughts; change our bodies, our habits, by changing our thoughts.” “Last Sunday a young man died here of extreme old age at twenty-five,” wrote John Newton.
George Meredith, on the celebration of his seventy fourth birthday said: “I do not feel that I am growing old, either in heart or mind. I still look on life with a young man’s eye.”
You cannot tell how old people are by the calendar. You must measure the spirit, the temperament, the mental attitude, to get the age. ^ I know young men who are in their sixties, and old men who are in their thirties. “Old age seizes upon ill-spent youth like fire upon a rotten house.”
No one is old until the interest in life is gone out of him, until his spirit becomes aged, until his heart becomes cold and unresponsive; as long as he touches life at many points he cannot grow old in spirit.
“To live on without growing old, to feel alive and hold, to the last, whatever is best in youth—vigor of mind and freshness of feeling—then, when the end has come, to find in the depths of the soul the belief of earlier years, and to fall softly asleep with a sure hope, is not this an enviable lot?”
The youth cannot understand why the close of the day does not have that
“wild gladness of morning” ; it has riper, richer hues. The sunset is just as beautiful, and often more glorious than the sunrise. The last of life should be just as beautiful and grand as the first of life, “The last of life— for which the first was made.’
Age has its pleasures. If the life has been well lived, the reminiscences are grand, the satisfactions beautiful. Indeed, what can give greater pleasure than to look back upon a life well spent, lived usefully, beautifully, fruitfully? When we arrive at the Port of Old Age, after a rough passage over a stormy sea, there is a feeling of rest, of completeness, of safety.
It is said that' “long livers are great hopers.” If you keep your hope bright in spite of discouragements, and meet all difficulties with a cheerful face, it will be very difficult for age to trace it’s furrows on your brow. There is longevity in cheerfulness.
Time does not touch fine, serene characters. They can’t grow old. An aged person ought to be calm and balanced. All of the agitations and perturbations of youth ought to have ceased. A sweet dignity, a quiet repose, a calm expression should characterize people who are supposed to have had all that is richest and best out of the age in which they lived.
There is no justness or fairness in ranking people by their years. People ought to be judged old or young by their mental conditions, their attitude
toward life, their interest in life, their youthful or aged thought. # If they face toward youth and optimism, if they are hopeful, cheerful, helpful, enthusiastic, they ought to be classed as young, no matter what their years may say.
The elixir of youth which alchemists sought so long in chemicals, lies in ourselves. The secret is in our own mentality. Perpetual rejuvenation is possible only by right thinking. We look as old as we think and feel because it is thought and feeling that change our appearance.
Mental poise means mental harmony, and harmony prolongs life. Whatever disturbs our peace of mind, or upsets our equilibrium, causes friction, and friction whittles away life’s delicate machinery at a rapid rate.
Few know how to protect themselves from rasping, wearing, grinding^ disintegrating influences in their environment.
Nothing else more effectually retards age than keeping in mind the bright, cheerful, optimistic, hopeful, buoyant picture of youth, in all its splendor, magnificence; the picture of the glories which belong to youth—youthful dreams, ideals, hopes, and all the qualities peculiar to young life.
“Keeping alive that spirit of youth,” Stevenson used to say, was “the perennial spring of all the mental faculties.”
What a mistake we make in associating the great joys of life with youth. Everywhere we hear people say, “Oh, let the young people enjoy themselves. They will only be young once. They will come into the troublesome part of life soon enough. Let them be^happy before the clouds come.” It is estimated that the person who lives a perfectly normal life will experience infinitely greater joys and will be much happier in his seventies than in his teens.
When a man has reached middle life or later, he is largely the creature of his habits, and he cannot develop entirely new brain cells, new faculties.^ We enjoy the exercise of the faculties which we have been accustomed to use, the
faculties which have been most dominant, active, throughout our lifetime.
One reason why many people have such a horror of old age is because they have made no provision for their occupation in their declining years. They spend all their energies in making a living, and do very little towards making a life. The curse of old age is a lack of interesting mental occupation, and it is usually due to an early lack of training for an interesting old age. “The mind that is vacant is a mind distress’t.” To avoid mental old age ought to be every ones ambition. But having formed the habit of reading, in youth, very few ever cultivate the habit and taste for reading late in life, and the result is that many people find old age extremely dreary and monotonous. Á person who has always kept up the habit of improving himself, reading good books, thinking and contemplating great truths, who has developed the love of art and beauty, and who has cultivated his social faculties, finds plenty of employment for his last years.
One of the most pathetic pictures in American life is that of the old men who have retired, but had nothing to retire to, except their fortunes. They had never prepared for old age enjoyment. In their younger days they did not develop the qualities which make leisure even endurable, to say nothing of enjoyable.
Everywhere abroad we see the retired American who feels out of place and homesick, hungry for the exercise again in the office, in the store, with the customer and the check book.
He cannot talk and laugh as he used to with his old college mates and friends, for even his mirth and enthusiasm have evaporated. No matter how hard he tries to enjoy himself in the art galleries, the concert halls, the yard stick, customs and schemes for making more money keep revolving in his mind, and strangle all the efforts of the finer sentiments to assert themselves. The things which he could have once enjoyed so much now only bore him.
Some of the most disappointed men T have ever met have been men w
retired after having made a fortune. Years of leisure looked enticing to them when they were struggling so hard in their earlier days to get a start and in their later days to accumulate a fortune. Their imaginations pictured a blissful condition when they could lie abed as late as they chose in the morning, do whatever they felt like doing, instead of being prodded by the “imperious must,” which had held the lash over them for so many years. And the beginning of their retirement was so blissful that they thought they had never before really lived. But very soon the days began to drag; and they discovered that their lives were not fitted to enjoy very much outside of the routine rut between their office and the home. After retirement their faculties which had been used in mental wrestling with men and things, in the barter of trade, soon began to atrophy; that which had been their strongest hold gradually faded out and left no adequate compensation. They soon found that their real enjoyment wTas in the exercise of their brain cells, that when they tried to find satisfaction and real enjoyment by the use of faculties which had not been developed, which had been little used, there was no corresponding satisfaction.
In boyhood the family necessity forced many of these men to find work, and their early education was neglected. The whole train of their business lives had been in an entirely different direction, away from the things they are now trying to enjoy.
How frequently we have heard of men who, after acquiring a fortune, have retired in robust health and at the very height of their mental vigor, and yet shortly after went into a decline and in a few years died.
Of what use are books and pictures and statues to him who has robbed intellect of all that deepens and enhances life’s value? There is no greater selfdeception than that which impels one to give the best part of himself and the best years of his life for something which he hopes to enjoy when the fires of youth have departed and there is
nothing left but embers and ashes of age.
An observing writer has said: “How many men there are who have toiled and slaved to make money that they might be happy by and by, but who, by the time they came to be fifty or sixty years old, had used up all the enjoyable life in them! During their early life, they carried economy and frugality to the excess of stinginess, and when the time came that they expected joy, there was no joy for them.”
The man who has trained his mind, who has prepared himself for the enjoyment of his retirement in his late vears^ is a fortunate man. If a man has richly earned his leisure by an industrious life, if he has tried to do his share in the world’s work and has trained his mind for enjoyment after his retirement, he ought to be able to be very happy. There are multitudes of ways in which an educated mind can derive enjoyment.
Think of the world of pleasure which can be found in books alone to a person who loves them and knows how to appreciate them! It is hard to conceive of greater delight. This would mean very little to the man who has spent half a century plodding away in the business rut and who has perhaps never read a book through in his life. .
Think of the enjoyment possible in the world of nature, of art, to a man who trained his esthetic faculties, as did Euskin, where every natural object, every sunset, would awaken delights that would ravish an angel.
What delights await the man who has made it a life habit to improve himself, to absorb knowledge from every conceivable source! Who can imagine greater delight than that which comes from feeling one’s mind expand, from pushing one’s horizon of ignorance farther and farther away from him every day!
There is no satisfaction in life like that which comes from helping others to help themselves; and the man who has^ kept this practice through his business career will find endless satis-
faction and joy in retiring to this helpful life.
It is not only the man whose entire experience has been confined to the narrow business or professional rut that finds life very disappointing after retiring, but also the man who has had early advantages, but whose absorption in his career has shut him out of the world of books, the world of art, beauty and travel, and closed the avenues of the social side of life, and destroyed the faculties that had found early enjoyment in these things. This has been the sad experience of men who have tried to find enjoyment after retiring, but discovered that they had lost their power of appreciation and enjoyment of things which they once loved so. This was Darwin’s experience. He was shocked to find that during his years of complete absorption in scientific studies, he had entirely lost his love for Shakespeare and music, that the faculties which presided over these things had become atrophied from disuse by nature’s inexorable law, which is “use or lose.”
We get our greatest happiness in the use of the faculties which have been long and habitually exercised. It is not an easy thing late in life to awaken new sentiments, new powers, new faculties which have been lying dormant for so many years. It is the exercise of the faculties and powers which we have been using all our lives which is going to bring us the only happiness and satisfaction of which we are capable.
By retiring, the average business man relinquishes his hold upon the very faculties which are in any condition to give him the most satisfaction.
He cannot get very much out of trying to arouse faculties which have been lying dormant for half a century, and perhaps have never been thoroughly awakened or developed.
I believe that the majority of men who retire not only fail to find happiness, but actually shorten their lives.
How often we hear of men dying, juts because they have given up the only thing they could do, and can find no other stimulant to exertion to take
its place—like the horse which so in«* terested Mr. Pickwick, which was kept up by the shafts in which it drew a carriage and collapsed when removed from them.
If you would keep young you must learn the secret of self-re-juvenation, self-refreshment, self-renewal, in your thought, in your work, in your youthful interests.
If you think of yourself as perpetually young, vigorous, robust, and buoyant, because every cell in the body is constantly being renewed, decrepitude will not get hold of you.
I believe that the average person could extend his life very materially, and especially increase his capacity for both achievement and enjoyment wonderfully by forming the habit of excluding from his mind especially before retiring, all unhappy thoughts.
In other words, if we could only learn the secret of what is called, in Eastern countries, “orienting the mind,” first emptying it of everything that can mar it or cause pain, and get the right mental attitude, the attitude of love, charity, of kindliness, of magnanimity, helpfulness towards every living creature, it would revolutionize civilization.
There is something wrong when we wake up in the morning with careworn faces, when we feel cross and crabbed and out of sorts, when we feel so touchy at the breakfast table that everybody must handle us with gloves. There is something wrong, when we do not wake from sleep fresh, strong, vigorous, cheerful, bright, full of energy, vigor, ambition, eager to get to our work which is a perpetual tonic.
It is not the troubles of to-day, but those of to-morrow and next week and next year, that whiten our hands and wrinkle our faces.
One’s disposition has a powerful influence upon one’s longevity. People who fret and fume and worry, who nag and scold, who are touchy and sensitive, age rapidly.
How can one have lines of age or weariness or discontent when one is
happy, busy, and one’s spirit is ever, ever young?
I know an old lady who has such a sweet benignant, serene nature that she has robbed old age of its ugliness.
“Frame your minds to mirth and
Which bar a thousand harms and
Happiness is a great vitality generator, a great strength sustainer, and a powerful health tonic.
“A very fine old gentleman of the best American type, accounting for nis advanced age and his advanced happiness, said: Tt is quite simple. Lead a natural life, eat what you want, and walk on the sunny side of the street.’
“There’s a cheery, comfortable bit of advice that does not ask you to live like an angel or die like a saint. By a natural life the old gentleman undoubly meant that we were not to live in excess of our incomes, turn night into day, or abuse our bodies. By avoiding these modern temptations one avoids dyspepsia, appoplexy, and nervous prostration, and so, being normally healthy, one can pretty generally eat what one wants to. As for the sunny side of the street—that is the best bit of the old gentleman’s whole creed. The crowd that travels on the shady side are a bad lot. They are such questionable fellows as Worry, Melancholy, Greed, Vanity, Idleness, and Crime. On the sunny side, however, it’s a jolly crew that jogs along—Mirth, Pleasure, Success, Health, Friendship, Love, good fellows all who help tremendously to halve the burdens and double the blessings of this little affair we call life, and in whose company, blow high or blow low, it’s always the fairest of weather.”
“Pleasures belong to youth; joys to middle life ; blessedness to old age, says Lyman Abbott. “Therefore old age is best; because it is the portico to a palace beautiful, where happiness is
neither withered by time or destroyed by death. Yet one need not wait for old age. He who in the prime of life has learned this secret of immortal happiness can with Paul bid defiance to all the enemies of happiness. He welcomes troubles as contributions to his happiness because builders of his character: ‘We glory in tribulation also : knowing that tribulation worketh patience: and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.’ ”
The greatest conqueror of age is a cheerful, hopeful, loving spirit. A man who would conquer the years must have charity for all. He must avoid worry, envy, malice, and jealousy— all the small meannesses that feed bitterness in the heart, trace wrinkles on the brow, and dim the eye. The pure heart, a sound body, and a broad, healthy, generous mind, backed by a determination not to let the years count, constitute a fountain of youth which everyone may find in himself.
“0, Youth! for years so many and
’Tis known, that thou and I were one, I’ll think it but a fond conceit—
It cannot be that thou art gone!
The vesper-bell hath not yet tolled: And thou were aye a Master Bold ! What strange Disguise hast now put on, To make believe that thou art gone?
I see these Locks in silvery slips,
This drooping Gait, this altered Size: But Springtime blossoms on thy Lips, And Tears take sunshine from thine
Life is but Thought: so think I will That Youth and I are House-mates
Of those who live life to the full of
usefulness, service, and enjoyment, it may be said :
Nor custom stale their infinite variety.”