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Life Expectancy & Happiness

Life Expectancy & Happiness

Hello and good day!

Yesterday, when I needed a quick break from work because my brain was fried, I took a few moments to look at life expectancy data.

In the United States these days, men live until age 74 on average and women live until age 79. That puts the USA in 43rd place worldwide, out of roughly 200 countries.

Then, just for kicks, I looked at GDP per capita data. This is a measure of the average economic productivity of individuals in a given country.

Because economic productivity tends to determine the material standard of living, GDP per capita shows where people are most well off materially.

On this measurement, the United States ranks 8th in the world.

As you can see, there is a dichotomy between these two numbers.

You'd think that material standard of living rankings and life expectancy rankings would be very tightly correlated, but they aren't.

I didn't have time to research why this strange divergence exists, because I had to get back to work, but these two data points have been gnawing at me for the last 18 hours or so.

Six months back, I watched a documentary about Deion Sanders.

Maybe you remember him.

He was a famous professional baseball and football player who played 30 some years ago. Many people consider him to be one of the greatest athletes of all time. He is the only person to ever play in a playoff baseball game and a playoff football game on the same day.

He grew up super poor and was raised by a single mother who worked two full time jobs to make ends meet.

He promised his mother that he'd get rich someday, buy her a house, and retire her for good.

To garner attention for himself, he created an alter ego named Prime Time. The Prime Time character was flashy and arrogant and polarizing.

Some people loved him. Some people hated him. But nobody was neutral.

He had the work ethic and ability to back up his cockiness on the field, and as a result, everybody respected and admired him, even if they abhorred his attitude.

Endorsement deals and fat contracts came rolling in and Sanders grew extremely wealthy.

In the documentary, Sanders says that he became addicted to fame and money.

He had married his college sweetheart and they had two children together. But he wasn't able to make himself stop working, go home, and spend time with his family. All he cared about was chasing more and more money and more and more fame.

While he was on the road, surrounded by adoring fans, he was prolifically unfaithful to his wife. She got fed up with his cheating and left him, and she took the kids with her.

When that happened, Deion had a crisis of conscience.

Despite the money and fame, he felt all alone in the world, and he felt that he'd let down the people who mattered the most.

He fell into a deep depression and decided to commit suicide.  He left a suicide note for his attorney outlining how he wanted his possessions disbursed and he drove his car off a cliff.

This is an absolutely true story by the way. You can find the documentary online.

He miraculously survived the crash and came away relatively unscathed.

He decided that he had been saved for a reason and that he needed to change how he was living.

From then on, he made his family the number one priority in his life, and everything turned around for him. He found serenity and contentment.

Now, imagine if he had been successful in committing suicide.

This would give you a perfect mechanism for explaining a divergence between standard of living and lifespan.

On the one hand, this man's standard of living was on the very far end of the bell curve.

He could have immediately acquired any material item that his heart desired.

And yet, he came very close to dying in his early thirties, which would have put him all the way on the other side of a different bell curve, the one showing the statistical distribution of how long people live.

My wife ran into a Peruvian woman who is currently living in our neighborhood. This woman came with her husband to live with their son for a while.

My wife is also a Peruvian immigrant, so these two have a cultural background in common and get along well.

The woman told my wife that she wants to go home soon. She isn't happy in the United States.

My wife asked her why.

She said that she feels she is wasting away.

Back home, when she goes to the market, she walks through her small neighborhood, and everybody knows her.

She sees her friends who she has known for decades. They stop and chat. They make a date to have coffee together or go for a walk in the park.

Her son came to the United States to take a job that paid more than what he could earn in Peru.

And he is happy.

At work, he has friends and teammates, and they work together every day to achieve a goal. He is part of a community.

But she and her husband are very lonely.

Her son's house is much bigger and more beautiful than her small apartment in Lima. The streets are better kept here, and the traffic is more orderly.

She can dry her clothes in a dryer instead of hanging them from the clothesline on her roof. At night, when she sleeps, there is quiet, instead of a million street dogs barking outside her window.

When she goes to the supermarkets here, she becomes lost in the aisles, looking at the never-ending abundance of options.

And yet, she is miserable and feels that she will die soon if she doesn't go home.

That was the extremity of the language that she used.

She feels that she is dying.

Like the story of Deion Sanders above, this is another case that explains a divergence between standard of living and lifespan.

A woman moves to a place where the standard of living is higher but feels that she is literally going to die young if she doesn't go back to where it is poorer.

Both of these cases have something in common: the importance of deep relationships to wellbeing and health.

I'm a business owner and a red blooded American.

I believe in entrepreneurship and hard work and chasing the American dream.

I was brought up to believe in these things.

My parents taught me these values and so did our culture.

But the statistics and the two anecdotes above are a reminder that a person must have balance in their life.

You can do both if you are cognizant.

You can bust your tail for a large portion of the day while still nurturing relationships.

This is a good reminder for me personally.

Thank you so much for time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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