Death Clock points the way to a happier, healthier lifestyle

Published in the Courier Mail 1 January 2009

I AM going to die on November 16, 2066. Unless I become a pessimist, in which case I will die on August 12, 2033.

And where have I discovered this amazing, insightful information? Where else – the internet.

A friend, who seems to have a talent for finding intriguing websites, walked into my office declaring he knew exactly how many seconds he had left to live and directed me to http://www.deathclock.com

This website describes itself as “the internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away . . . second by second. Like the hourglass of the net, the Death Clock will remind you just how short life is”.

You jump on, enter your weight and height, nominate whether you are a smoker or not, and choose from one of four choices of mood – normal, optimist, pessimist or even a sadist. If I become a sadist I can expect to die four years from now.

The Death Clock seems designed to encourage people to give up smoking and lose weight, and has links to a range of health-related articles covering everything from ADD to workplace health.

It’s a great website to check out at this time of year. Most of us think about our health as we begin a new year, and around our nation various resolutions regarding fitness, weight loss, healthier eating and healthier habits will be made.

All of which is good – although a little doomed if we do not set some concrete goals and plans of actions as to how we will achieve it.

Another area of life the Death Clock reminds us about, albeit lightheartedly, is the difference that our attitude makes. According to the Death Clock, I lose 33 years if I adopt a pessimistic approach to life, and science may agree.

More and more research is being done on mind-body connections and the effect a positive outlook on life has for our physical health.

A 2004 study by the University of Texas into ageing and attitude concluded that those with an upbeat, optimistic view of life were less likely to show signs of physical frailty than those who were pessimists.

The July 2003 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine had a study showing that those with an energetic, happy and relaxed attitude are less likely to catch the common cold.

Even the Bible has an encouraging message: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.”

Choosing to maintain a relaxed and optimistic attitude can radically change your approach and experience to life’s curve balls.

So how are we to cultivate a healthy emotional life? How do we resist the seemingly endless procession of stressors we encounter in 21st-century life?

Like an exercise plan, a plan of action is necessary, and starting with small steps can be an effective way to begin implementing change.

For example, you could start with car parking. The level of angst we carry over shopping centre car parking is unhealthy and bewildering. Think of the benefits to our cardiovascular system and overall frame of mind, if we choose to park in the most distant (and least busy) space.

Another approach is to decide to be content with a long wait for a car park. Adopting this frame of mind initially, and choosing to resist any rising frustration, will make a significant difference for your emotional health in that situation – and that of those in the car with you.

Once you have mastered that situation, you’ll realise that change is possible – and you can choose another context in which to adopt a positive attitude.

Life is too short anyway. Cultivating emotional health may not only lengthen our years but make them more enjoyable. It’s a simple and completely free way to turn back time – even the Death Clock.