Do What You Want--
and Live Longer (1950)
Thurman B. Rice

  

"No matter how I coax and threaten," a worried mother told me, "my Tommy simply will not eat his spinach.  Whatever am I going to do?"

I suggested that she give him strawberries and cream instead.  "You're not serious!" she gasped.  I told her I never was more serious.  Strawberries and cream happen to be packed with vitamins and minerals, and Tommy liked strawberries and cream while he detested spinach.

I am a strong believer in doing what you like.  The very fact that you enjoy a thing is reason enough for doing it.  This does not mean that I favor selfish indulgence or unbridled dissipation.  It does mean that I'm in favor of getting more fun out of life.

Down through the centuries people have searched for some formula that would prolong the span of human existence--an elixir to endow men and women with eternal youth.  The famous Pasteur Institute of Paris recently announced  that it, too, is working on a "youth serum."  The project is still in an experimental stage; but even if it were to succeed, how better off would humanity be?  What point is there in extending the span of one's existence if it simply means increasing the number of years in which to be old and futile?

Wouldn't it be more to the point to study ways and means of packing more living into the span of life already allotted to us?

A doctor friend has told me of a patient whom he inherited from his father.  The patient is nearing 90 and apparently is in the best of health; yet my friend has never known him to draw an uncomplaining breath, or to be other than a burden to himself and a pain in the neck to those around him.  For all his years, such a man can scarcely be said to have "lived" at all.

You're not truly living unless you get a kick out of life; you're simply existing.  Yet I know plenty of people who actually go out of their way to deny themselves fun and enjoyment.

One man never does anything because it would be pleasant or enjoyable but always because it is his bounden obligation.  He is one of those fellows of whom it is aptly said that they were "born old."  His oppressive sense of duty makes him a bore to his acquaintances and a trial to his family.  An overly conscientious woman considers it a sin to laugh since her husband died.  Hugging her grief, she denies not only herself but her children the right to a happy, normal existence.

Many people make themselves miserable by adhering to a disagreeable "health" regimen under the mistaken notion that such practices are somehow good for them.  They persist in sleeping beside open windows in cold weather though nose and throat specialists condemn the practice.  Millions of American males start the day in fear and trembling with a cold shower that shocks the nervous system, leaves them chilled and under par and causes them to be drowsy by midmorning.  They do it on the theory that it "hardens" them, whereas in a majority of cases it actually makes them more susceptible to colds.

One of my friends knocks himself out every morning doing setting-up exercises to keep himself fit.  U.S. Army tests prove that recruits subjected to intensive calisthenics probably do not possess more physical endurance under combat conditions than soldiers who have had little or no "toughening."

I know a woman who feeds her family quantities of raw carrots, cracked wheat and brown sugar.  Her meals are scientifically apportioned blends of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, vitamins and roughage; nevertheless, they are so unappetizing that her family fails to get much benefit.

Then there are people who ruin their lives by being overparticular about their physical surroundings.  A woman in our town is a perfectionist and a fuss-budget.  She makes both her family and visitors uncomfortable by her prissy insistence on having everything arranged just so--from chairs and ash trays in the living room to umbrellas and overshoes in the coat closet.  Basically a well-intentioned wife and mother, this woman would be all right if only she could learn to relax and take things as they come.

And I know couples who are so determinedly conventional that they don't get fun even out of their amusements.  They play bridge or golf not because they enjoy it but because it's "the thing to do."

Then there are those who have fallen into the habit of putting off the things that make for real living.  One woman is forever buying a new suit or gown.  But she rarely wears any of her smart clothes.  She is saving them for some indefinite future occasion that never seems to arrive.  Another young woman, a schoolteacher, went without her summer vacations for years in order to take more and more college courses.  Last summer, having at last received her doctorate, she visited a summer resort for the first time.  But she was so miserable there that she cut short her stay.  It was too late--she had forgotten how to play.  She isn't as good a teacher with a degree and a grouch as she was with no degree and a cheery outlook on life.

It's possible to wreck your life by trying to play things too safe.  No one can be happy if we're excessively anxious about our homes, our bank rolls, our jobs or our health.  When you get right down to it, all living involves risk.  The people who try always to play it safe not infrequently find themselves more vulnerable to trouble than those who are willing to take some chances.

Many who entertain the notion that because a thing is unpleasant it must be good for them also believe that whatever is pleasant is bad.  This is equally absurd.  The world is full of good and pleasant things put there for our enjoyment:  sun and rain and food and sleep and love and play and laughter.  If we turn our backs on them, are we not guilty of ingratitude to their Creator?

Living, as I see it, is an art, the most important art there is.  Yet few people learn to practice it successfully.  Mrs. Anne Mary ("Grandma") Moses probably offers the perfect example of the fun you can enjoy once you relax and start doing what you really want to do.  Grandma Moses always wanted to paint, but she never got around to it till she was 78.  Even in her 90's, unflustered by fame and wealth, she still painted for the sheer joy of it.

Nobody needs to go on living in the squirrel cage of a dull existence.  Anybody who really wants to can emancipate him or herself and start enjoying life.  The owner of a filling station far off the usual tourist routes in the Rocky Mountains was a man of obvious education and refinement.  It eventually came out that he had been for a time a partner in a Manhattan law firm; but he hated the work and hated the life, in spite of all the money he was making.  "So I quit and came out here," he says.  "It may not be for everybody, but this part of the world suits me.  My ulcers have disappeared; my nerves are steady again.  I'm my own boss.  Any time I feel like it I go fishing for a week.  I don't make much money, but I'm having more fun than I ever had in my life."

The really successful people are those who get paid for doing the things they like to do.  They'll not only be happier but the chances are they'll live longer, too.  In the Book of Proverbs it is written:  "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine."  There's no other medicine to be compared with it.

  
   

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