New Year’s Eve parties are inevitably debauched affairs. This, because most of us resolve in the weeks leading up to this otherwise innocuous evening, that we will morph into better creatures overnight. But before we morph into perfect humans, a voice in our heads pleads that we be allowed to engage with our vices one last time. It’s a plea we want to hear and give in to.
But on average, our resolutions stand firm for only about 12 days, the fitness gadget manufacturer Strava discovered after poring over data from around the world.
That is why, to wrap your head around the pointlessness of giving in to debauchery, I thought I might ask you to spend a few moments pondering a question: How would you like to die?
It may sound morbid, but it’s a question I like to ask people. Some moments of silence later, a clichéd answer emerges: Painlessly and suddenly.
But as Dr Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist affiliated with Cornell University, writes, “It’s not dying you should worry about — it’s chronic disease.” The author of 30 Lessons for the Living pored over hundreds of thousands of data points to conclude that the chances of people dying painlessly and suddenly are remote.
“The person who reaches age sixty is going to live on average at least another twenty-two years. What you need to be concerned about is the quality of your life during that time,” he says.
Whatever is that supposed to mean? Take India. Most data suggest that a little over 26% of Indians die of cardiovascular diseases. But that does not mean that all those afflicted will drop dead of sudden cardiac arrest. When the numbers are spliced, it turns out that of every 1,000 Indians who contract such diseases, just about 26 to 30 actually drop dead suddenly. Everyone else must deal with related ailments, pain, hospitalisations and medical procedures as they wait (often a long while) before they actually die. They burden not just themselves, but those around them as well.
The other conditions that kill large numbers of Indians include respiratory diseases and cancer. We know how protracted and painful these are.
While dying cannot be avoided, the pain we inflict on our older selves by choosing to say “So what? You’ve got to die sometime,” doesn’t bear thinking about.
Pointers from Dr Pillemer? That we will grow old and die is a given. But do it gracefully.
My coach has scheduled a tempo run on the morning of December 31 and a strength-training routine on the morning of January 1, 2020. Some days the body pleads to stay in bed. But I’ll be there — on track. The debauchery of the night before be damned.