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Why We're Living (Far) Shorter Lives Than Ever, and What to Do About It
by Brian W. Vaszily for

It's very sad. We're living shorter lives than ever.

Brian VaszilyAbout
Brian Vaszily

Brian Vaszily (pronounced "vay zlee") is a bestselling author, positive change advocate, speaker/organizer and sometimes funny guy whose life mission is to help others explore, experience and enjoy life more intensely while bypassing the traps that would hamper that goal -- particularly unscrupulous marketing and rampant consumerism.

Brian is the founder of, has authored several books including the acclaimed novella Beyond Stone and Steel (see for some reviews), and with over fourteen years of marketing management experience is President of the TopMarketingPro consultancy.

In addition to his How We Get You columns here at SixWise, Brian also leads the popular blog, "The 'Live Deeper' Blog by Brian Vaszily." He has appeared on many TV and radio shows and been quoted in many publications regarding his books, columns, articles and ideas. Brian Vaszily was born and raised in Chicago, growing up on the northwest side in the blue-collar Portage-Cragin neighborhood. Brian and his wife and two children currently reside outside Chicago, Illinois.

You are on a path to live a much shorter life than the generations that came before you. Your children and their children are on a path to live a much shorter life than you.

Perhaps that contradicts what you currently believe -- the big lie that the big marketers have sold virtually everyone -- that we're living longer lives than ever before.

Well, here's a secret my peers in marketing definitely don't want you to know: they have wrestled control of the very concepts of "life" and "living" away from the clergy, artists, and philosophers, and have successfully reprogrammed what these concepts mean to almost everyone.

By their definition, the one they have you believing to their great financial benefit but not to yours, you ARE living more years than ever. 77.6 years on average if you are an American.1

In reality -- that is, when you step back from your life and honestly consider it as I will ask you to do below -- you probably feel like you don't have enough time to enjoy life, to experience the things that really matter like your family and the beauty of the world and your hobbies and your spirit. Furthermore, you are probably often frustrated that, no matter how much you wish to the contrary, it seems you have increasingly less time for these things.

You may last 77.6 years or longer, but if an increasing mass of time in those years is spent in anxiety, anger and depression - and many widely publicized studies concur that these states are at all-time highs -- is that really living?

An increasing duration of years is not the equivalent of a longer life. It certainly means more time for the big marketers to sell you more stuff and make more money off of you. But if more and more of your time and attention and spirit is exhausted pursuing the things they con you into believing you need -- bigger house, nicer car, fancier ring, higher limit credit cards, more pharmaceuticals, sleeker cell phone -- you can subtract that time from your living.

And so it's very sad. We're living shorter lives than ever.

What Life is Not

Please consider these twelve questions:

  1. Do you have more free time than ever before?

  2. If you have an immediate family in your home, do you sit down to dinner with them almost every night to savor your food and one another's company?

  3. Are you reading plenty of the books you'd like to read, seeing the movies and plays you want to see, attending the museums, galleries or sports events you want to attend?

  4. Why is it that wealthy people and famous people are typically considered "successful"?

  5. Are you reading this column at a relaxed pace? Or are you rushing through it -- perhaps just scanning it like you do with almost everything else?

  6. Is there sufficient quiet time in your life -- where you know you won't be troubled by phones, requests, errands, or any other interruptions -- and you can just pray or meditate or think or simply be?

  7. Do you go on plenty of vacations, even if they're just little affordable getaways?

  8. Do you routinely take time to enjoy your mornings -- to savor a good breakfast, inhale some fresh air and sunshine, peruse the paper, chat with your spouse or neighbor?

  9. At the end of a typical day of work do you still have plenty of time and energy to pursue the things you like to do? To routinely enjoy your hobbies? Pursue your dreams?

  10. Do you spend enough time with the people you want to spend time with, such as kids, parents, siblings, spouse and friends?

  11. What are the most wonderful experiences you've had in life? Is your life structured so that it's highly likely you'll have more of them?

Back in 2001, Pitney Bowes conducted a survey in which they added up the email, voice mail, snail mail, and memos handles by an average worker -- it added up to over 200 per day.2 And oh, how we long for those simpler times! Considering the exponential growth of the "wired" and now "wireless" world in those five years since, the number is obviously even higher today.

Time Deficiency

Still much more impressive than any big screen TV, but not profitable (so far.) Perhaps we could beam advertising for Skittles directly onto them?

Meanwhile, the United States currently has the least amount of leisure time of any industrialized nation in the world. And 50% of U.S. dollars are spent on food outside the home, including fast food and take-out, more than double the amount versus fifty years ago.3 And 63% of the U.S. preschool population is in regular care outside the home, over half of these for thirty-five hours per week.4

Meanwhile again, according to Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American and Born to Buy, from 1973 to 2000 the average American worker added five weeks of work to her schedule -- - astonishing considering there are 52 total weeks in a year. This doesn't take into account, however, the aforementioned wired and wireless world of cell phones, Blackberries, email, voicemail, laptops and more that are keeping people "connected" (i.e., chained) to their work and "enabling" (i.e., luring) them to work through their "free" time outside of work.

So my final question to you, question number 12, is this:

On your deathbed, when the realization hits that your life is quite near its completion, do you think you'll be wishing you spent even more time at the office, or that you had a more expensive car, or that you answered more emails? Or will your mind and wishes go elsewhere -- and therefore shouldn't you?

How You are Sold the Lie to Sell You Stuff

One of the things I am, as you may know, is a marketer. I used to be part of what I call the "predominant" or "big" marketing paradigm that, for the ages-old reasons of power and greed, has now taken absolute control of most people's beliefs and habits in American culture.

Though I suspect most people will be slow to accept this fact because they are mired deep within it, this predominant marketing paradigm is by far the #1 killer and disabler of our time. It is the root cause of far more mental and physical disease and death than any virus, type of fat, or gene. It is even more destructive to the spirit.

Having seen the extent of, and having contributed to, the predominant marketing paradigm's severe spiritual, mental and physical destructiveness, I had a series of epiphanies that led me to what I call "conscientious marketing." In part and in brief, this simply means sticking to the truth to sell honest products.

In part, though, it also means exposing the sinister tricks and manipulations that the predominant marketers (in business, politics, and beyond) are using to con you to debt and death.

Along those lines, last week I told you the #1 Real Rule of Marketing, and here is the #2 Real Rule of Marketing:

Relentlessly remind people of how deficient they are -- deficient in time, physical appearance, or status, for example -- and then just as relentlessly convince them that your product or service can magically eliminate their deficiency.

Of course the "magic" products and services don't really work any magic. Despite sleeker cell phones, faster computers, high-tech gym shoes and workout equipment, etcetera, etcetera, it is quite clear that people do not have more free time, they are not less stressed or less depressed, and they are not healthier. On the contrary.

"Since 1997, there has been a 465 percent increase in the total number of cosmetic procedures. Surgical procedures increased by 118 percent, and nonsurgical procedures increased by 764 percent."

-- Cosmetic Surgery Quick Facts: 2004 ASAPS Statistics

But the real trick is not the over-exaggeration about yet another "time-saving" or "appearance-enhancing" gadget, which in and of itself is Marketing 101 and quite easy for anyone to detect.

The far more sinister trick is how big marketing has focused you and everyone on certain areas of deficiency (those that are highly profitable to them) -- and not on certain others (those that would hold more meaning to you, but are not highly profitable to them) -- and thereby reprogrammed the entire value system in our society.

To repeat the idea that launched this column, they have redefined the very concept of "living" -- according to what benefits their bottom line, at the severe expense of yours.

Prompting you to constantly worry about how you look = big profits. Prompting you to worry hard about not performing well in bed = big profits. Prompting you to worry endlessly about not having enough time so that you spend all your time trying to make more money to make more time = very big profits.

But prompting you to instead focus your attention on exploring a forest preserve with your child or grandchild?

Prompting you to shut off your Blackberry and cell phone and computer and TV for a day or a week and instead savor an old novel or ponder the stars or have a solitary conversation with God or your neighbor, or simply daydream?

time deficiency

"I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering."

-- Stephen Wright, American actor, writer, comedian

Prompting you to sit down and compile a list of "The Things that REALLY Matter" to you -- the things that, if you were on your deathbed tomorrow, you would regret not having cherished more, not having paid more attention to, not having pursued -- and then committing to them above all else?

Those are the worthwhile experiences. Those are the things that the clergy, artists and philosophers would agree are really living.

But they're not financially profitable, so you won't be hearing much about them from the outside world.

It's very sad. We're living shorter lives than ever.

Fortunately, and as you'll see when you compile your list, you already have everything you need to make it longer and happier.

  1. Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2003, table 6

  2. Survey by Pitney Bowes, in Carol Hymowitz and Rachel Emma Silverman, "Stressed Out: Can Workplace Stress Get Worse?" Wall Street Journal, Jan 16, 2001

  3. 2003 Restaurant Industry Forecast, National Restaurant Association, Washington, D.C.

  4. Brian Robertson, Day Care Deception (San Francisco; Encounter Books, 2003)



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