I remember reading some time ago about a study of longevity in humans. There has been a large body of scientific research into the reasons why some people are long-lived but of course while various diets, health regimes, and regional or ethnic differences are often linked to living long, it is a very difficult cause and effect relationship to determine because there are so many other variables involved. However, the study I remember didn’t spend as much time on health and diet as many others. The researchers spent time observing and interviewing a number of people who are living long lives to determine what common factors these very diverse people shared.
Do you know what the single largest factor they all shared – the trait that the researchers determined played the largest role in their long lives? It wasn’t a specific food or faith or daily activity. It was simply the way these folks dealt with adversity.
The ways that these folks dealt with adversity did vary. Some had great religious faith, others had an unquenchable zest for life, and others had a great determination that they could and would overcome difficulty.
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If you think about it then this does seem to make sense. After all, the longer you live then the more adversity you must overcome. Human life is fraught with adversity – both physical and emotional – although each person’s experience varies greatly. In order to survive adversity, to overcome loss and difficulty, and to succeed in life a person must have inner resources to draw from.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes says: “If I had a formula for bypassing trouble, I would not pass it round. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it. I don’t embrace trouble; that’s as bad as treating it as an enemy. But I do say meet it as a friend, for you’ll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it.”
Most of us have seen the evidence of this even if we have never formulated a scientific theory about it. We have seen the cancer patient diagnosed and then does not even live out the time doctors predicted. We have seen the heart patient diagnosed who far outlives expectations – by months and then years. What makes the difference between these two groups of people? I believe it has to be a will to live, some inner resource, that one group possesses and the other does not.
A few weeks ago my friend Carl’s left hand was amputated after being injured in an accident with a log splitter. It was devastating to those who love him and certainly no one would have blamed him for becoming depressed and grieving.
But Carl hasn’t chosen that path. Instead he focused on what he can do, not on what he can’t. And if he discovers something that he can’t do one-handed then he puts his considerable problem-solving abilities to work on a solution. He isn’t simply reacting to a tragic accident but proactively seeking solutions.
He is not a saint. He complains about the pain and discomfort of the healing process and is sometimes frustrated by the trial-and-error process of his problem-solving, but he is not wasting time feeling sorry for himself. He knows he has been given many gifts and those gifts include the ability to solve problems and overcome adversity.
I can only hope when my time comes to face adversity that I can meet it with as much energy, determination, and confidence.