Tag Archives: happiness

What Would You Trade the Rest of Your Life For?

During a recent run, I was told that a number of world-class athletes had once been asked the following: Suppose there was a drug that would guarantee victories in whatever events you chose, but would also cause you to die in five years. Would you take that drug?

The surprising result became known as Goldman’s dilemma, after the physician who posed the question. Read on for how the athletes answered.

Hey, what if I could take the drug at age 95? By Kuebi = Armin Kübelbeck (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hey, what if I could take the drug at age 95?
Source: Armin Kübelbeck, Wikimedia Commons

One could argue that the question is meaningless, because in reality there is no such drug, and therefore no actual choice to make. Yet isn’t a form of Goldman’s dilemma already in evidence from athletes who take steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, despite the known side effects and risk of getting caught?

And what about NFL players who continue to play despite multiple surgeries, tissue-destroying cortisone shots, and concussions? Many former players are practically crippled or have symptoms of severe brain damage from concussions.

When I was growing up, I was taught that delayed gratification was a good thing. And anyone who works out has heard the phrase short-term pain for long-term gain. But the examples above are doing the opposite – obtaining short-term money and fame in exchange for long-term suffering. This is classically portrayed as selling one’s soul to the Devil.

And over half the athletes asked the “magic drug + death” question said they would take it, willing to take the short-term success in exchange for no long-term at all.

And this disgraced former champion even said he'd cheat all over again. "Lance Armstrong MidiLibre 2002" by de:Benutzer:Hase - Self-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

And this disgraced former champion recently said he’d cheat all over again.
Lance Armstrong MidiLibre 2002” by de:Benutzer:HaseSelf-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I bring this up due to something Randy Step recently posted in the Running Fit Events newsletter. He cited the recent sensationalist articles claiming that running hard is as bad for you as being sedentary, and that life is not prolonged as a result (read a more informed analysis here). Randy’s point is that we don’t run to escape death; we run to enjoy the experience and experience a higher quality of life until we do shuffle off this mortal coil.

“Would you rather be living it up and running every day until you are 80 and then just drop dead,” Randy writes, “or would you rather live a sedentary life, develop congestive heart failure at 80, spend 10 years in a nursing home with multiple disease factors, perhaps Alzheimer’s and no quality of life, then die at 90?”

Fortunately, studies consistently show that people who exercise live longer and also have a higher quality of life than those who are sedentary, so again this is a hypothetical choice. But I’m pretty sure I’d choose the “run every day, die at 80” scenario. Being active is about more than just staying healthy and fit. I believe it is a major contributor to my self-confidence and happiness.

Somehow I don't think Meb is interested in dying early. By Gr5 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a hard runner who I’ll bet outlives any couch potato.
By Gr5 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As for dropping dead during a run, there have been races where I’ve felt pretty close to it. So far, so good, though. I’ll be sure to let you all know if I make it to 81.

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The Choices We Make – and Don’t

At a writer’s retreat some years ago, I was asked to read a favorite poem. I recited Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. Having learned it in high school choir, (where we performed its musical arrangement), I thought I knew something about what it meant. A guy goes for a walk, sees two virtually identical paths to take, chooses the less worn one, “Oh, I kept the first for another day!” but doubts he will return. He reflects upon his choice in the final verse:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“Interesting poem, isn’t it?” our instructor said. “He isn’t saying, ‘I am telling this with a sigh.’ He says, ‘I shall be telling this with a sigh.’ That’s in the future. How does he know that choosing that path will make him sigh, or that it will make any difference?”

While we were pondering that one, he tossed out another. “Notice the title of the poem. It isn’t ‘The Road Less Traveled’ – it’s ‘The Road Not Taken.’ The narrator took one path, but the title refers to the one he didn’t take – about which he knows nothing. And he ‘kept the first for another day’ but then said he was unlikely to ever come back. So what’s that all about?”

"When you come to a fork in the road - take it."

“When you come to a fork in the road – take it.”

He then told us that Frost had a friend who was obsessed about the choices he hadn’t made; he was always wondering, ‘what if I’d done this or that instead?’ So this poem is a jab at that kind of thinking. On the surface, it’s a poem about making a choice, but it’s actually more about the choices not made, and the regret that you can’t go back and make them again.

How often have we fallen into this trap? I sure have. I’ve wasted plenty of time wondering ‘what might have been’ as though I might be richer, or more famous, or have more free time (i.e. somehow happier), if I’d made certain decisions differently.

I could have married a different woman (or remained single), or made different investments, or chosen a different career, or bought my dream car 20 years ago, or done any number of other things. But why I should sigh over any of that? How do I know my life would be better or not? Such thinking devalues the blessings I have from making the choices I did – my family and friends, and the fulfillment I get from my job, running, Aikido, and other activities.

What “makes all the difference” is how we build on where we are right now. That road is always available to us. And if a different life vision appeals to you, then I agree with Joseph Campbell: Follow your bliss, and don’t be afraid. But no empty regrets.

Happy New Year!

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P.S. For an interesting twist on the subject of choices, I recommend Roads of Destiny, a short story by O. Henry, which should tell you it won’t be ordinary.