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How to live to 108

I like taking tests that calculate how long I’m going to live. I answer each question truthfully, and if that doesn’t suit, I answer less truthfully

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100 year old female patient foreground with her Latin descent home healthcare nurse in background discussing treatment options with daughter in nursing home or home setting.
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The kids have all left home and life seems short. In my idle moments, I like to take multiple-choice tests that calculate how long I’m going to live. I’ve reached an age where I find questions like “Do you almost always wear a seat belt?” relevant and bracing.

I answer each question truthfully, and if that doesn’t suit, I answer less truthfully. How many of my grandparents lived past 90? Well, there are a variety of answers to that question, and I think it’s clear which is correct. (There are no “right answers,” say the longevity tests, but if you believe that, you are on your own.)

Other questions are trickier. Should I say I have no stress, or that I find moderate stress motivating? Still, I do very well on the tests. My last online test concluded I would live to be 105. And that number is growing every day.

I make all kinds of remarkable discoveries about myself. Recently, thumbing through a magazine at the hairdresser’s, I learnt (after some quick peeks at the answer key) that I have the gums of a 15-year-old. Later at home, I lyingly reduced my cancer risk on tests so many times that to date I have a negative 450,000 per cent chance of developing the disease.

Now and then, for variety, I’ll take a test totally unrelated to increasing my life expectancy. These wild card tests should be taken only at your own risk.

Luckily, if I have learnt anything from the longevity tests it is that I purport to be an unrealistic optimist (six years added to life expectancy) filled with utterly unfounded confidence (20 years-plus). Brushing self-pity aside, I immediately clicked on the “What piece of literature are you?” quiz and discovered that I am Shakespeare’s sonnets. If I may quote from the quiz: “Everyone has heard of you, and almost everybody can find something touching in you.”

Sometimes people say to me, Do you really want to be alive when all your friends and children are dead and you have no money? Certainly my sorrow at the loss of loved ones will be inexpressible. On the other hand, my tests indicate that I make six new friends a month, each of whom I see “at least once a week.”

While that might not be strictly (at all) true, who needs friends (only don’t say that on the tests) when the tests care about every intimate detail of my daily habits in a way that no one ever has or ever will (but on the tests, be sure to select “feel validated by others”)?

As for my children, nobody could love her children more. And yet, the strange thing is, they have become more of a distraction in the last few years than when they were little. Last night I was taking the “Can you make it in retail sales?” test when a son called just to say hello. I was so delighted (though not enough to stop taking the test) that I unthinkingly answered one question with, “I keep control of my temper with a few slip-ups,” and the next, “I settle in and prepare for a spirited argument with the customer that might get physical.”

Then there’s the issue of my money running out. I used to worry. But now I only have to glance at my test answers to discover that I earn over $250,000 a year, make regular contributions to my 401(k), will work 7.11 years after retirement and own my own house. Nevertheless, I feel it incumbent upon me to be on the lookout for a test that will allow me to claim I have a million-dollar portfolio and a second home in Florida with a solarium and in-ground pool. It’s not that I personally need a fancier test. It’s just that I am not a person who likes to keep her head in the sand.

As in all healthy relationships, of course, the longevity tests and I have our ups and downs. Last week, for example, waiting for the light to turn, no matter how many times I changed a test’s answers on my phone, I was congratulated on living to a measly 86! At first I got very upset. But then I reflected on how much deeper our relationship had grown since our very first test, which had informed me that I had enjoyed life to the fullest and was already dead.

— New York Times News Service

Sarah Payne Stuart is the author, most recently, of the memoir ‘Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God, and Real Estate in a Small Town.’

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