Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Longevity secrets of the very old

Oscar Niemeyer is Brazil’s most famous architect. He designed Rio’s Sambadrome – a famous parade ground where samba schools compete during Carnival. He designed the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum, also in Rio. It’s a bold saucer-shaped structure surrounded by a giant reflecting pool at its base. Niemeyer has designed some of Brazil’s most famous buildings.

Niemeyer just turned 102 years old. But he’s not reflecting much on that birthday, it seems, choosing instead to continue his life’s love working on various projects. "Turning 102 is crap, and there is nothing to commemorate," he told AFP.

What follows are some thoughts on those who have lived a very long life. We find absurdity peppers their thoughts. We begin with Niemeyer. We don’t know if Niemeyer is an absurd man or not, but he voices some absurdist opinions. First, there is his view on his birthday. Niemeyer seems well-potted in the present moment. No thoughts of legacy here. He seems to enjoy life in the present. As the AFP notes:

“Even in old age, Niemeyer continues to flaunt his love of life. He still enjoys his cigars -- "an old habit that I cultivate with much gusto." Four years ago, at age 98 and a widower, he married his 60-year-old secretary.”

As a friend of ours put it: “I hope when I'm that age, I'll still be smooth enough to pull 60-year-old babes...”

And lastly, Niemeyer shares what we think may be is his secret to a long life: "I don't fear death," he told the Rio newspaper O Dia this week. The absurd man also does not fear death, knowing it is as natural as the sun rising and setting, or the rhythm of the seasons.

The very old always fascinate. In our day job, we make our living in financial markets. There are quite a few old practitioners who plied their trades well into their 90s. Phil Carret, a legendary investing figure who lived to 101, was asked his secret to a long life. “Never worry,” was his reply.

Another famous investor, John Templeton, died last year at the age of 95. Phil Fischer died at 96. Then there is Irving Kahn, the oldest active investor on Wall Street today. He’s 103 years old. Roy Neuberger is another, though retired, he’s 106.

This has led to much speculation as to why these investors have lived so long. One common speculation is that all of these men were long-term investors. They were patient. They were independent. They were cool customers who didn’t panic. They all showed a great deal of equanimity during their lives.

As one Business Times correspondent put it: “[These] investors are said to sleep better at night. And conceivably, they are not so highly strung. Their stress level would be lower than those who chase after the market and whose mood swings along with it.”

Well, we can’t say for sure whether any of these men were really absurd. But we can say the absurd makes us feel equanimity with the world as it is. We can say the absurd reduces stress. After all, if nothing matters, there is nothing to worry about. Absurdity makes us mellow out.

And perhaps the absurd, too, will also bring better odds of a long contented life.

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