I'm not afraid of death as much as I'm afraid of dying in a way that causes the last emotion I ever feel to be panic and makes my family's body-identification experience especially terrible, like looking up just in time to see a piano falling in my general direction. Whether I die tomorrow or at 100, I'd like my last feeling to be something kind of peaceful. Not that I want to die tomorrow — there are lots of things I still want to do — but unpredictable shit happens, and I accept that.
I probably won't die tomorrow.
Anyway, unless a doctor has given you an estimate for how long you have to live with a terminal illness, most of us don't know when we'll die. However, a new study published in the journal Psychological Science finds that your friends can kinda sorta predict how long you'll live based on their perceptions of your personality.
“Our study shows that people are able to observe and rate a friend’s personality accurately enough to predict early mortality decades down the road,” says Washington University in St. Louis assistant professor Joshua Jackson, PhD, who is actually as cute or maybe even cuter than actor Joshua Jackson. “It suggests that people are able to see important characteristics related to health even when their friends were, for the most part, healthy and many years from death.”
Jackson looked at a longitudinal study that started in the 1930s, when a bunch of Joes and dames in their mid-20s were asked about their friends' personality traits. In fact, a lot of the interviewees were bridesmaids and groomsmen in the upcoming weddings of the friends they were asked about, which makes me wonder if there was any juicy wedding-party gossip recorded for all eternity in the annals of science. But that's not the point.
By comparing what was said about the subjects to their death certificates, Jackson was able to find a link between certain friend-perceived personality traits and the length of their lives. Specifically, men who were described as open and conscientious and women who were described as agreeable and emotionally stable (I am biting my finger-tongues right now) were more likely to have longer lifespans.
So, why are our friends inadvertently clairvoyant?
"First, friends may see something that you miss; they may have some insight that you do not," Jackson explained in a statement. "Second, because people have multiple friends, we are able to average the idiosyncrasies of any one friend to obtain a more reliable assessment of personality."
Naturally, I wanted to test this theory in an unscientific and all-around discomfiting way — in other words, in a way not even closely resembling the methods behind the study — so I sent the following email to my fellow xoJane regulars, pretty much all of whom I consider friends:
SUBJECT: I need your opinions on my eventual death!
Hi folks! I’m writing about a study that shows that friends can pretty accurately predict when you’re gonna die, based on your personality. So, for those of you who feel that you can fairly assess my personality, I would like to know: How old do you think I’ll be when I die, and why?
Here's the life- (and death-) affirming email thread that followed:
Jane: I'm psychic, so I already know. Heehee. I am semi-joking.
Mandy: This is the equivalent of asking someone if you look pretty. Which I do all the time so I get it, but dude, this is awkward fucking city. You are hilarious, girl. (And pretty, duh.) But everyone is gonna say 80. I love you and 80. Because if anyone asked me this I would say 80.
Jane: Oh no, that is what I came up with psychically!
Claire: I feel weird, but 72. That's just a number that popped in my head. I don't like this.
s.e.: Claire, you and I are eerily on point — 73 sprang up in my head. *spooky music*
Hannah: Yeah this is . . . not pleasant.
Rachel: MARCI I HATE THIS.
Rebecca: My crippling fear of death and I are looking at this entire thread as exposure therapy.
Mandy: Marci, whatever ages you are being told, just add the missing number to make 80. WE ARE ALL DYING AT 80 I TELL YOU WE ARE WE ARE.
Me: Y’all are so superstitious! I feel like I’m in that life insurance commercial where the daughter doesn’t want to talk about it with her mom.
Natalie: I reckon by the time we're old, we'll be living till way past 100. So I reckon 103. Maybe 104.
Alison: This is legit the worst thing ever. Miss Manners would not approve!!!
Claire: It's giving me a much smaller version of the panic I felt when my grandmother made me go around her house and put Post-Its on everything I wanted to inherit.
Alison: MY GRANDMOTHER DID THE SAME THING.
Marianne: My great-grandmother did this, but without the Post-Its. That's how I came to inherit a five-gallon bucket of wooden matches. Marci, I think we're potentially nearing the point of science where everyone's brains will be cryogenically frozen at least, so maybe death isn't even going to happen for you.
Somer: According to my nine-year-old, when we die we just get reborn into the same life over and over again, like a dream we can't escape. So, Marci, you're never really going to die. So says my son and Nick Cave.
Louise: Marci, you're gonna live forever, and you're gonna learn how to fly. In all honesty, my guess is 101. I read somewhere in SCIENCE that the first person who lives to 200 has already been born. So that might be YOU, Marci.
So, what have we learned? Basically, my xoFriends hate talking about death and hope I die at a ripe old age, except for Jane and Emily, who think I have about two decade left before I succumb to something Future Medical Science can't fix.
Hey, at least no one saw me dying of piano crushment at 35.