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Posted at 05:22 PM ET, 04/05/2011

Sex, worrying, happiness, and studies — only one of them will kill you

Well, it turns out I was wrong.

Worrying won’t kill you.

Sex will.

Well, it won’t help, anyway.

Perhaps it’s okay to have sex, as long as you worry about it a lot afterward, which would bode well for Woody Allen.

Then again, I worry constantly. I worry that I am not worrying enough. I worry that worrying that I am not worrying enough doesn’t actually count. At the rate I am going, I will live forever. It will certainly feel like forever.

I don’t think I’m neurotic. But sometimes I worry that I am. They say that to stop worrying you should make lists of all your worries and then get them out of your mind. At the rate things are going, this is becoming a checklist. Riots. Floods. Famines. Shutdowns. Elizabeth Taylor passing. The Black Eyed Peas somehow remaining hip and relevant.

Still, it’s reassuring that all this worrying is good for me. Nothing like a study to vindicate your life’s direction — or inspire you to change it. I’ve worked up to three solid hours of worrying a day, but sometimes I worry that by the time I alter my life in response to these studies, someone will have come out with more studies. And the thing that worries me most about studies is that it’s impossible for all of them to be right. How do you choose? A recent study says hard work might kill you. But I’m sure there’s another almost equally recent study that says what will kill you is being attacked by bees.

Now I hear that you are happiest in your 80s. How does that work? I guess not remembering everything, not having to worry about your biological clock and having a perfect excuse when anyone invited you to do yoga would make you happier. But forget 80s! At the rate I’m listening to all these studies, I’ll barely make it out of my 20s.

And there’s always a trade-off. Sleep, or worry? The more you sleep, the longer you live. But then again, worriers outlive non-worriers, and I can’t really be expected to get my quality worrying in during work hours. Optimal worrying is done late at night staring at the ceiling, when every noise makes you believe that masked men with very definite opinions about the mounting deficit are about to come rushing in and force you to explain the impact of a government shutdown. “I don’t know!” I will say. “How essential are you?”

Still, what worries me most is that these studies are gradually pointing to the fact that there is very little you can do about anything. Once you’re out of elementary school, when your worrying patterns are determined, you’re pretty much stuck on a groove. Genes determine if drinking makes you happy or sad. And happiness in general depends mainly on demography: The world’s happiest man is Alvin Wong and he meets a specifically calibrated set of requirements that I can’t hope to achieve. I could keep kosher, but I will never be a 69-year-old man of Asian heritage.

In a way, knowing how little control I have over any of this is oddly liberating.

And that worries me.

By  |  05:22 PM ET, 04/05/2011

Tags:  studies, oy

 
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