How to (Sort of) Gain 8.68 Years of Life

If, hypothetically (i.e.: right here, right now), I asked you, “When do you think you’ll live to?”, what would you say? What if I asked the question slightly differently, like, When do you think you’ll die by?”would that have elicited a different answer? How do you think most people answer these two different questions?

Please hold for a brief intermission.

Pop Psychology Quiz! Which option do you think most carnivores pick, given the choice?

A) 75% lean ground beef
B) 25% fat ground beef

Research study participants overwhelmingly pick A, the lean beef choice.

Here’s another loosely-related-but-still-amusing-beef-psychology-phenomenon…which option do you think most hungry carnivores pick, given the choice?

A) A 1/4 pound beef burger
B) A 1/3 pound beef burger

More people choose A, because you know, the number 4 is bigger than the number 3 and so it therefore has more meat. 👈😳??

I’m never not disappointed by our human race (myself included; but c’mon guys—it’s fractions 101). Okay now I’m on a nasty research roll: When researchers asked a representative sample of Americans to convert 20 out of 100 to a percentage, 28 percent failed to do so accurately. (*Pause for dramatic effect here, please*).

So what’s the point? And why is there so much ground beef?

How things are positioned makes a difference in our perceptions and choices. We’ve known this for years and yet we keep falling for the “framing effect” because enough of a percentage of our brains is still so reptilian and therefore subject to biases.

Because all I want to talk about here at Four Thousand Mondays is our mortality (and how we can use this damning reality to as a motivator to live better while we’re still alive), I perked up when the brilliant psychologist Hal Hershfield (buy his book here!) mentioned that our beliefs about life expectancy are also altered based on framing.

Researchers, just for shits and giggles, asked a couple thousand people one of two questions:

When do you think you’ll live to?

When do you think you’ll die by?

Study participants asked to the “live-to” question frame added an additional 8.68 years to their average life expectancy, as compared to those asked the “die-by” question.

More than eight-and-a-half years.

Live to or Die By?I’ll say it again, this time in caps for emphasis: MORE THAN EIGHT-AND-A-HALF YEARS.

What the hell—the works!—caps, italics, bold, and underscore: MORE THAN EIGHT-AND-A-HALF YEARS.

The live-to frame yielded an estimated life expectancy of 76, whereas the die-by frame led people to low-ball their lifespans at 67.

These researchers also asked people about the likelihood of living to vs. dying by certain ages. “The probability of living to age 85 was 57% in the live-to frame and only 33% in the die-by frame, a highly significant difference due to framing.”

Implications abound.

Obviously if you’re in the life insurance business, this information is professionally consequential—duh. But what about the rest of us who don’t sell annuities for a living?

I love thinking about living a long, lustrous life, but I also know we dupe ourselves into thinking we’ll stuff a lot of the spectacular stuff into our retired years, the mystical span of life known as “later.”

Can I rumple our feathers and suggest we stick with the die-by framing question that abbreviates our lives by 8.68 years? Obviously get your financial/ insurance ducks in a row with the assumption you’ll live a nice long life, but what about when it comes to creating that sense of urgency we need to get on with living large and in charge? Living sooner rather than later?

Red red wine you make me feel so fineI got The Husband a nice bottle of wine for Christmas—one of those “should hold well for 30 years” bottles. If I think about how long we’ll “live to,” we might really age it, like patient (and obnoxious) oenophiles who have oodles of years ahead of us. And we might both die before that bottle has its chance to properly inebriate us. But if I think about how long we might “die by,” I am motivated to corkscrew that puppy open tonight (although it really can’t be opened until 2027, so here’s hoping we don’t die for at least a few more years).

We roughly get 4,000 Mondays to do this life justice—to “skid in [to the grave] broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a ride!’” (per Hunter S. Thompson). Fathoming how temporary we really are is just what helps us see our time as precious and worth Doing Something Special With. So how about we rig our perceived life expectancies by shaving off 451 Mondays, using that “die-by” frame? I don’t know about you, but thinking I’ve lost 451 Mondays makes me want to live with even more intensity. Let’s have that Quarter-Pounder (er, Third-Pounder) and premature bottle of wine tonight after all?

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: What with this heightened sense of urgency to live, why not preorder You Only Die Once: How to Make It to the End with No Regrets?!

P.P.S.: Let’s connect on Instagram!

P.P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!


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