Over the past decade a strong correlation has been confirmed between income and life expectancy. The poor have a shorter life expectancy. However, a recent article in the New York Times suggests there may be a new trend emerging. A November article reports a rising death rate in middle aged white males. The causes of death were even more alarming. Past studies and health statistics would point the blame to heart disease as well as diabetes, but the recent study confirmed suicide, substance abuse, and alcoholic liver disease as the more likely causes.
Something is changing as we go from the World War II generation, to the “Me” Generation, through the “Y” generation. The New York Times referenced two Dartmouth economists stating, “It is difficult to find modern settings with survival losses of this magnitude”. In the same article, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania was quoted as saying “This is a valid indication that something is awry in American Households”. So, what is it?
Well, we know that the United States consumes more than most other countries and continues to as poverty climbs. Historically our poverty is not as bad as in other parts of the world. We know that less Americans have manufacturing jobs than in recent decades. We have fewer children. We know Americans eat out more often, vacation less, and spend less time in meaningful conversation with those around them. We know less Americans participate in fellowships, have a sense of community, or have faith in their lives.
It seems our keys to happiness may not be on target. As we have more access to information, we seem to use the information in unhealthy ways. The more we are exposed to technology; we look for technology to make us healthy, happy and wise. However, as we have more choices and information of what substances are healthy for us, we seem to make less healthy choices.
Perception plays a role in our daily choices. We perceive those who live in pain must be miserable. We perceive those with more money are happier because of what they have materially, not spiritually, or emotionally. But, if we stop and reflect, only we can make us happy. If we stop and think, only our diet and health choices can make us healthy. And if we stop and look, we can find happiness by separate ourselves and our concerns through reflecting in nature and with those around us. Making these efforts change us, literally, by changing the way our brains function.