Happiness And Longevity.

As my regular readers know, my GP is a very wise old style doctor under whose care I feel very safe. Among the many reasons that he is like that to me is one fact of his always being very cheerful. Even under serious health problems that he personally faced, he would always present a cheerful demeanour and since I know his family well also, I believe that he and his family are by and large, very happy people.

His bedside manner including such good cheer, just seeing him would improve a patient’s condition. One particular aspect of his diagnosis is always his probing questions about the state of his patient’s minds as vouched for by others that I have sent on to him for consultations. For me, however his standard opening statement would be “why are you here? You have no business being ill. You are a happy fellow.” or words to that effect.

So, when I got this link on happiness and longevity sent to me by a friend, I was quite amazed that this old school doctor who does not get much time to read such forwards, leave alone his daily newspapers, would be so strong in his belief about health, longevity and happiness.

I just filed away the information at the back of my mind and forgot all about it till I received another forward earlier today.  Please click on the image for a larger resolution.

Yes, long life and happiness are two different things altogether and I would rather have the latter than the former. In fact, if it included many of the problems that the older people face in their twilight years, I do not want the former at all.

The Amazing Story Of Jeanne Louise Calment.

I have recently been interested in statistics / misinformation /wrong interpretation of statistics / probabilities etc, and a dear friend knowing about this interest has sent me this amazing story, obviously an extract from some article or book that I am unable to locate to give credit to.

It gives me great pleasure to share it with my readers.

Jeanne was in her late 80s. Her husband had already passed away twenty years back. Her only daughter, Yvonne, had died much earlier at a relatively young age. Yvonne’s son, Frédéric, was raised by Jeanne herself. Unfortunately, like his mother, Frédéric too had a premature demise when he was killed in an automobile accident at a young age of 36.

All her life Jeanne had lived in Arles, France and had no wish to leave the place in her final years. However, living alone with no source of income, it was hard to support herself.

That’s when a forty-seven-year-old lawyer named André-François Raffray offered a deal to the old lady.

At age ninety and with no heirs, Jeanne agreed to sell her apartment to Raffray for the price of a low monthly subsistence payment of 2,500 francs. The contract said that the payments would stop upon her death, at which point she would be carried out and Raffray could move in.

Jeanne would thus have an ongoing source of cash to live on in her last years, and the lawyer would get an apartment cheaply, with no money down, in return for accepting the uncertainty as to when he would take possession.

If you were at Jeanne’s place, would you do that deal? I guess most people would be satisfied with the terms of such contract.

Would you do the deal if you were Raffray? Well, Raffray wasn’t rich. His offer to Jeanne wasn’t motivated by only charity in mind. Raffray figured that it was a reasonable bet.

The ninety-year-old French woman had already exceeded the French life expectancy by more than ten years. She could die any day. He was probably making arrangements for his own retirement.

The deal seemed mutually advantageous.

In 1975, ten years after the deal, Jeanne Calment celebrated her 100th birthday in good health. While the astonished attorney kept wondering where did he go wrong in his calculations, Ms. Calment continued her life comfortably. As another decade went by, Raffray turned sixty-seven and Jeanne qualified as supercentenarian (a term for those who go past the age of 110).

It took another decade for the attorney’s long wait came to an end. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end he expected. In 1995, after making payments for more than 30 years, André-François Raffray died of cancer while Jeanne Calment lived on. At age 114 she even appeared briefly in the 1990 film Vincent and Me as herself, becoming the oldest actress ever to appear in a motion picture.

Raffary’s family inherited the agreement, i.e., they would be in line to get the apartment, but in order to do so they would have to assume the original deal, continuing the monthly payments until she died.

Jeanne Louise Calment turned out to be the biggest outlier in human history. She holds the record for the longest confirmed human lifespan. In 1995, a documentary film entitled Beyond 120 Years with Jeanne Calment, was made about her life.

Jeanne’s day of reckoning finally came on August 4, 1997, at the age of 122. Her age at death exceeded the lawyer’s age at this death by forty-five years!
Jeanne Louise Calment

I found this story in Bart Holland’s brilliant book What Are the Chances? Holland writes –
Obviously it turned out that this was not a good way for the lawyer to obtain an apartment “on the cheap”; in fact, he never occupied it. However, his expectation that it was a good deal was a reasonable one, based as it was on typical human life spans. He had no way of knowing that the woman with whom he has struck the deal would have such an exceptionally long life—indeed, the longest well-documented lifespan on record at that time. Nor did she have any way of anticipating her own longevity, although she did feel that the abundance of olive oil in her diet—and her moderate drinking of port—could have salutary effects (an opinion that most epidemiologists would agree with today).

In 1789, in his letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Raffery bet on supposedly the certain thing, i.e., death of an extremely old woman. So where did the smart lawyer go wrong in his bet?

When he struck the deal, he observed that Jeanne had already lived ten years more than what French life expectancy tables predicted. But he didn’t know that the relevant issue was not whether she should be expected to die in minus ten years but that her life expectancy, given that she had already made it to ninety, was about six more years. Even when Ms. Calment reached 100, her life expectancy was still two more years. He probably had never heard of Bayes’s theory. But that was only a small part of his miscalculation.

Individual lifespans are unpredictable, but when data are collected from groups and analyzed en masse, regular patterns emerge.

His blunder was in taking the statistics and applying it to a sample size of one. He tried to play a game similar to life insurance business. But unlike the unlucky lawyer, the insurance company does not bet on one life but on millions.

The second mistake was that he agreed to a deal where the worst case could (and it did) cost him a significant portion of his net worth. He ended up paying Calment the equivalent of €140,000. That was more than double the apartment’s value.

Statistically, the deal was a very attractive bet for Raffary. However, statistics by definition apply to a group. Bigger the sample size, higher is the statistical significance of the pattern observed.

Ideally, he should have done few more such deals with a couple of more 90-year olds. But by putting all his money on an almost-sure-shot bet, he made the biggest financial mistake of his life.

Legendary investor, Howard Marks relates a funny story his father told him about a gambler who bet everything on a race with only one horse in it. How could he lose? “Halfway around the track, the horse jumped over the fence and ran away. Invariably things can get worse than people expect.”

Jeanne and Raffray’s story has a valuable lesson for investors.

Never bet the farm on a single stock no matter how certain you are about the outcome. You never know when the luck hands you the equivalent of a crazy horse or a supercentenarian.

Life Is Uncertain.

I had to wait for quite some time before I could post this article on my blog. You will understand the reasons for the delay as you come to the end of the post.

Cheerful Monk wrote this in her post Life Is Uncertain six weeks ago.

“Rummuser’s recent post reminds me of the T-shirt I wore years ago when our organization was about to downsize. It said,

Life is uncertain so eat dessert first.

Unfortunately Qannik over at The Thundering Herd is on a diet and can’t do that. So he smells the flowers instead.

That works too!

♥ ♥ ♥

I responded to this post with the comment:  “My inner Guru says, why either or? Use both.”

The Monk responded: “What does your doctor say? ?”

And I responded to that question with: “My doctor, as you probably remember from my older posts is also a dear friend. He says, that I am now living on “Bonus” time and might as well have fun while I can. He is an old fashioned GP who believes that human beings were not engineered to live to suffer and die in old age as they now do.”

And there lies the reason for the delay. In May I had a lot of problems with my health, the most annoying being the pain in the shoulder. I found an Indian remedy for it and it seemed to work a great deal better than just the exercise routine and I happily went off to Delhi on a short vacation. I fell ill there with Delly Belly and cut short my vacation to return to my comfort zone.  It has taken all this time since then for me to be able to say that I am now back to my 2013 level of fitness. I have started to take walks every evening and the visits to the park have now reignited old friendships and fun and my doctor friend says that the chances are that I will most likely have a trouble free death unless I get into some unforeseen problem.   In any case, since I am on bonus time, I have decided to enjoy the uncertainties as well.  So, yes, there is uncertainty but tempered with quite a bit of certainty as well.

I can do both now.


I was woken up from my siesta by a visiting friend from Mumbai. He was waiting for me in the drawing room when I came down yawning. Seeing me he said something very funny. He said, “I don’t swing that way!” I asked him what on earth he was talking about and he produced a news item from this morning’s local newspaper which he had been reading while waiting for me. I am unable to scan and reproduce it in its entirety as it is too big, but on googling for the same headlines I found the gist of it here.

We laughed at it and he went away after tea. I subsequently got around to reading the newspapers which I had not been able to as I had a house guest in the morning who had to be given breakfast and sent off. As I was reading the paper another news item caught my eyes.

I just wonder if she ever yawned!

How Long Do You Wish To Live?

My niece from Delhi rang me up this morning for some information and after that was done, asked about her grand father’s well being. When I gave her the update, she said something rather appealing. She said that she prayed that she will be as healthy as he is when she grows older. Mind you, she has a long way still to go to be even considered middle aged but with two boisterous young kids, she is already thinking about these matters.

That conversation started me off on reflecting on my family’s longevity and quite where it will take all of us younger generation oldies!

My father’s elder sister who was older than he by three years, passed away last year at the age of 94. She was one Matriarch for her patch of green with all her children kow-towing to her imperial diktats. She was the most hospitable person during my not so affluent days and there were many occasions when I used to drop in unannounced at her place for a meal. She was a wonderful cook and generous to a fault.

My father still has a younger sister four years younger at 88 who is a retired physician. Her husband too is a retired physician, six years older than her at 94, which makes him older than my father.

My father’s other siblings, a sister and three brothers, have all passed away after long fruitful lives. On my maternal side, I have no older generation uncles and aunts but they too, with one exception, lived long fruitful lives.

In our generation, I have innumerable older cousins and some younger ones too. From all indications, it would appear that all of us would also live long fruitful (?) lives.

Which brings me to the big question. What age should one look forward to, as a reasonably good long life? I believe that as long as one can live without depending on others for daily living, and without suffering one can pass away, irrespective of the number of years that one has lived, it would be adequate.

On a lighter vein, this evening, my father was catching up with the news from the South of India from the newspapers from there that are mailed to him. These take a few days from the date of publication to reach us. I just asked him if he had finished reading them as I wished to take out the crossword puzzles. He said that I could have all of them as, he was interested in only reading the obit columns! Keeping track of people from his generation, who kick the bucket! I wonder what goes on in his mind!

Any insights to share?