Live Long and Master Aging podcast

Episode

220

Life, wisdom and Morrie Schwartz in his own words

Rob Schwartz | Writer & Producer

BY PETER BOWES | JUNE 13, 2023
 
Tuesdays with Morrie touched countless hearts and inspired millions around the world to try to live better lives. Now, almost three decades later, a new book, The Wisdom of Morrie, written by Morrie Schwartz and edited by his son, Rob, reintroduces us to the man whose wisdom and humanity left an indelible mark. 
 
Morrie Schwartz was a writer and a professor of sociology. Late in life he developed Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS. Having seen Morrie on television, talking about his terminal illness, the writer Mitch Albom reconnected with his former professor and began visiting him every Tuesday. They talked about life and death – love, happiness, regret, aging, family, forgiveness, and spirituality. Morrie died, at the age of 78, in 1995. Based on their conversations, Albom wrote Tuesdays and it became a best-seller. Posthumously, Morrie enjoyed a global following and was loved around the world.
 
In this interview, Rob Schwartz reveals how he discovered his late father’s completed manuscript for a book on how to live and age well.  He tells us how he set about editing Morrie’s words, which explore questions of identity, meaning, purpose, and humanity.  He also shares his thoughts on his dad’s unique legacy.   
 
 
Photos: Courtesy, The Schwartz family
 
Topics covered in this conversation with Rob Schwartz include:
 
  • The cultural impact of Tuesdays With Morrie
  • How the book became a global phenomenon
  • How Rob edited his father’s unpublished writings, in The Wisdom of Morrie.
  • How this treasure trove of insights aims to help people of any age live more joyfully and creatively
  • The value of being intentional about our actions and thoughts
  • Ageism in society.
  • The importance of celebrating the aging process, embracing the idea that growing older is a privilege, and how an optimistic outlook can lead to a longer and healthier life
  • Navigating issues such as time and cherishing every moment
  • Dispelling the notion that it is too late in life to do anything
  • The essential role of relationships in our lives and the challenges we face in expressing our emotions and caring for those closest to us
  • Acknowledging our regrets, learning from them, and living our lives in a way that positively looks to the futur
“It’s clear that my father is trying to offer first psychological insight as to why people may feel a certain way about aging that they don’t necessarily need to feel. He addresses ageism and how pervasive it is in our society. And then he goes on to give very concrete techniques on how you can try and live more joyfully, more creatively.”
Read a transcript
 
 
Read more about Rob Schwartz and The Wisdom of Morrie:
 
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TRANSCRIPT

Rob Schwartz: [00:00:00] There was a period of time when essentially everybody or everybody who knew anything about media in the United States over the age of 15 knew the book really in 2003, 2004. It was like a cultural touchstone. It’s mentioned in the Simpsons movie.

Peter Bowes: [00:00:21] If you like millions of people around the world were deeply moved and inspired by the book Tuesdays with Morrie. We’ll get ready to be moved and inspired all over again. Hello and welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. I’m Peter Bowes. This is where we explore the science and stories behind human longevity. Well we aspire to live long, healthy lives, but sometimes, inexplicably, the most cruel of diseases will come along and defeat us. Morrie Schwartz was a writer and a professor of sociology. He developed Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS, and died in 1995. In the final few months of his life, Morrie spent Tuesdays with a former student, the writer Mitch Albom. They talked about many things life, death, the meaning of life. And Mitch later wrote a book based on the extraordinary conversations they’d had. Tuesdays with Morrie was an international bestseller, and posthumously, Morrie became known and loved around the world. Well, now there’s a new book, The Wisdom of Morrie, edited by his son Rob Schwartz, based on a collection of his dad’s unpublished writing. And we have more wisdom, more anecdotes and life lessons, all beautifully told in the authentic voice of Morrie. Rob Schwartz, welcome.

Rob Schwartz: [00:01:41] Thank you so much. It’s wonderful to be here.

Peter Bowes: [00:01:43] It’s really good to see you. And the first thing that I thought of doing, in fact, did do when I heard about your book was to reach up to my bookshelves and grab Tuesdays with Morrie, which I remember reading An old Man, a young Man and Life’s Greatest Lesson. And one of the first thoughts that I had was just looking at the calendar was how long ago this was and how long ago it is since your dad died. Just a couple of years short of 30 years. And it’s interesting to me that the passage of time and time itself is indeed something of a theme of of your dad’s book. Does it seem that long ago to you?

Rob Schwartz: [00:02:20] Well, that’s a tough question. I mean, I’m sure that you’ll understand when I say sometimes it seems that long and sometimes it doesn’t seem that long and sometimes it might even feel longer. You have to remember there are kind of two sort of different things here because my father passed Tuesdays with Morrie, wasn’t published for another two years, didn’t become a hit for a year after that, and then stayed on the bestseller list for five years. So there’s a good 7 or 8 years between my father passing and the Tuesdays with Morrie phenomenon sort of reaching full bloom and starting to fade. So there’s a bit of a time gap there. But my father’s death, yeah, it now feels like a while ago. I mean, I’ve obviously, I’ve mourned him a lot and visited the grave. I’m now in Boston. We’re very close to where his grave is. I was in Japan for a long time and we can discuss that if you like, but it does feel like he’s been gone for a while now. Yeah.

Peter Bowes: [00:03:19] And just before we go into some of those stories and talk about your life at the time and in Japan and traveling and then discovering the writings of your dad, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Just for anyone who doesn’t know what Lou Gehrig’s disease, it is one of those awful conditions, isn’t it? There is There is no cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease. And of course, it is hugely debilitating.

Rob Schwartz: [00:03:40] Yes. I mean, my understanding and I’m certainly not an expert on it, is that they have developed some drugs recently which slow the progress, which is interesting because I still don’t think they know what causes it, but I think they have developed some drugs that slow the progress so people can survive a little bit longer. Then again, it’s extremely individual. You know, they have a bell curve. Most people survive this long. But, you know, the famous professor of physics and, you know, a groundbreaking writer, Stephen Hawking, he lived with ALS for something like 60 years or something insane like that. Right. So it is very individual also. But yeah, it’s a horrible disease. You lose motor control. It’s a motor neuron disease. You lose control of your limbs and gradually it affects your whole body and then your lungs or your heart and you pass away. Yeah.

Peter Bowes: [00:04:32] So I want to focus obviously, on your book and the new thoughts, the new anecdotes, the new stories that we’re hearing from your dad. Just one question about Tuesdays with Morrie and you explain the kind of slow initially progress of that book to capture the public imagination. But I’m just curious in your case, as far as you’re concerned and that of your family, what kind of impact did the success of that book and the the fact that your dad became so well known after his death? What kind? Affected that have on you?

Rob Schwartz: [00:05:00] Sure. I mean, obviously before while he was alive, he wasn’t well known. So it was a big difference because the book was so incredibly successful and there was a period of time and I wouldn’t say this is true anymore, but there was a period of time when essentially everybody or everybody who knew anything about media in the United States over the age of 15 knew the book really in 2003, 2004. It was like a cultural touchstone. It’s mentioned in the Simpsons movie, for example, which I think came out in 2004 or something like that, 2005. There was a very popular TV show called Will and Grace. They did a whole episode that was specifically based on Tuesdays with Morrie around the same time period. So it was a real cultural touchstone. It’s not true anymore. It was so long ago that it’s published. I think you have to be over 35 or 40 really, to know about Tuesdays with Morrie. It’s still used in some high school courses so those kids would know about it. But yeah, I mean it didn’t obviously have a huge impact in my life, especially because I was living in Japan when I would visit this country on occasion, not infrequently, let’s say the the subject would come up and people would have a strong reaction. So I certainly have experiences where people burst into tears when they find out who my father is and things like that. But other than that, there were some things Dr. Phil did, I think, a 10th anniversary show on Tuesdays, and he had Mitch on the show and then they invited my brother on the show and I on the show as well. So, you know, there were things like that. They actually flew me from Japan to Los Angeles to be on the show. But in general, there was a few other things I can tell you, a few other stories. As you probably know, it’s in about 40 different languages, including Japanese, where I was living in Japan. So I actually appeared on Japanese television a couple of times with Mitch talking about the book. So when Mitch came to Japan, that was, you know, that was a big thing for for me because I was there. And the book was a big hit in Japan, by the way. And then I guess the last thing about how Tuesdays with Morrie particularly has has impacted my life is that Mitch also wrote a play, right? There was a movie and a play. Mitch wrote the play and he has much more hand in producing the play. And after it was on Broadway or wherever it was, maybe off Broadway, it is performed all around the country and all around the world. And I’ve done a lot of Q&A after the play just because I love to connect with people about my father and they’re very interested. So it’s very enjoyable. So I’ve done it all around this country and actually internationally, all around the world. I’ve done Q&A after the play. So that’s been a sort of theme in my life for maybe the last 15 years or so. I think the play probably came out about 2003, but these community productions probably started around 2007.

Peter Bowes: [00:07:58] So it has been quite a ride.

Rob Schwartz: [00:08:00] Oh yeah.

Peter Bowes: [00:08:00] Oh yeah, yeah, definitely. You’ve mentioned Japan a few times. Let’s talk about you a little bit. You at that time, at the time of your of your dad’s death, certainly you were doing a lot of traveling and spending a lot of time overseas. Just tell me a little bit about your life, your career and what you’ve been doing.

Rob Schwartz: [00:08:17] Well, both of those things are true, though. It’s kind of a there is a separation. When I said both of those things, you mentioned Japan and you mentioned traveling. I wasn’t traveling in Japan. I was resident in Japan for 30 years. I also traveled a lot in China, India, Southeast Asia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia. Those are probably the main countries that I spent a lot of time in. Particularly, I spent a lot of time in China in the last like between 2012 and 2019. I’ll circle back to that. But yeah, I was living in Japan for most of that time. Of course, I was going back and forth, especially when my father was ill between Japan and Boston to spend time with him. And then even after he passed away to spend time with my mother. And we’ll circle back to that in a different story. But in the sort of mid to early 2000 my life, I was a freelance journalist and things really got upgraded. When I got two positions, I became the Tokyo bureau chief and then later the Asia bureau chief for Billboard magazine, which is the music industry magazine in this country and pretty much dominates the world. And I also got a job at the national broadcaster in Japan, NHK, to edit news scripts in English, they have an English language news broadcast. So both of those jobs were very high profile, kind of a step up in my career, and I did them for a long time. And then circling back the Billboard thing when I was writing about all of Asia was the reason why I went to China a lot for about a 7 or 8 year period, because the Chinese music industry was really growing. Fast in that time period. It wasn’t in the top ten biggest music industries when I started. And I think when I, I mean, I still work for Billboard, but not in the same capacity because I’m not living in Tokyo. I think now it’s probably like the fourth or fifth. It may not be quite that high, but it’s definitely in the top ten of biggest music industries in the world. And that’s in terms of revenue, right. And just incidentally, very few people know Japan is number two is the second biggest music industry in the world.

Peter Bowes: [00:10:29] So yeah, interesting. And you were the week and obviously the months leading up to your dad’s death, you were mostly out of the country. But but you, you did return for his final…

Rob Schwartz: [00:10:40] I was there when he passed. And I mean, I went back and forth. And so when I came to Boston, I stayed for a while. So I was at home for three weeks or a month. Then I would go back as it happened, right towards the end, I had to renew my work visa in Japan. And when you have to renew your visa, you can’t leave the country. If you leave, the application gets killed. So I had to stay until they approved it. And I actually remember going to the to the Ministry of Immigration a few times saying, I really need this to be done really quick. This is a life or death situation. And they got it done. I arrived in the States about ten days before my father passed away, and about seven of those days, about a week, he was conscious. Towards the end. It was odd because he was slurring his speech and basically everybody was having a really hard time understanding him. Except for me. It wasn’t any problem. And he and I had a really, really close bond. And, you know, that’s the way it was. I was also the very last person in the room with him. He slipped into a coma. And despite the fact he was in a coma, he survived for three days. The doctor told us that his heart is incredibly strong and we all sat with him in the room while he was in the coma, just so that he would have somebody there when he passed away. But as it happened, I stepped out. There was a nurse present. I stepped out for a second, I think, to get a glass of water. And that’s when he passed. And we theorized that he wanted me to be out of the room. But who knows? Who knows?

Peter Bowes: [00:12:19] Yeah. Was it a Mitch’s book that I read that or your book? I can’t remember.

Rob Schwartz: [00:12:23] Really that story is in it?

Peter Bowes: [00:12:25] Well, the story is in there about him passing with you all out of the room just momentarily. Right.

Rob Schwartz: [00:12:32] Well, Mitch must have heard that from me then. Okay. Because Mitch was not there.

Peter Bowes: [00:12:35] Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Interesting. So obviously, a journalistic career. Let’s come up to the point where you now, several years later, many years later, you discover the writings of of your father.

Rob Schwartz: [00:12:49] I have to correct sort of one thing you said in the introduction, which is that and somebody else said this in a review like, I had collected my father’s notes or his, you know, various writings. No, this was a complete book, a complete manuscript that he had finished from word one to word, whatever it is, to page 362, he had written from start to finish. So I’ll tell you the story of that one. It also goes, actually, just before I moved to Japan. So I had been traveling around Asia in 1988, 89 as a kid, basically, and I moved back to the States for a couple of months just before I was planning to move to Japan for a long term residence. And my father was writing this book, so I was able to sit with him and talk about the ideas and go through what he was doing and be his sounding board for a couple of months. And then I moved to Japan. Obviously he got sick. He finished the book. He wrote it from 1988 to 1992. He finished the book. He attempted to get it published, but he wasn’t very sophisticated in general publishing. He was very sophisticated in academic publishing. And he has a lot of very important academic work. And I write about that in my essays that I added to the book. But he wasn’t that sophisticated in general mainstream publishing, and he wasn’t able to get the book published. So he put it in a drawer and then he got sick and then he passed away. Tuesdays with Morrie was published. My mother kept the house that we had in West Newton, Massachusetts, and I used to go to his study and write my articles. And one day I just pulled open a desk drawer and there was this big I mean, not like a few papers, big bound thing with hard cover, like big hard black cover. And I opened it up and I started reading it. And of course, immediately I knew exactly what it was because I had talked to my father so much about it when he was writing it. And I decided at that time that, okay, this is my job, I need to publish this. And I had a lot of discussions with my mother and my mother helped me edit it, in addition to just editing. There was a process of grieving or continuing to grieve for my father because his voice is so clearly present in this book that it’s almost like you’re in the same room with him. So it was a very long process for me to edit the book. And I have to say my father was an academic and this is a, you know, a general book for everybody. There’s no academic language in it. But because he was an academic, he tended to be verbose. So I had to cut a lot. And because he wrote it over such a long period of time for four and a half years, there was repetition. He had forgotten that he had said something already. So there was a lot of editing was necessary for this book.

Peter Bowes: [00:15:37] So this is why we do interviews with people at the heart of a story to find out exactly how it happened and perhaps not rely on something we’ve read on the Internet. So it was a complete book and you just touched on it there that and I was curious about this, whether it actually involved a new grieving process to have to read again, your father’s words and and many stories that you mentioned, the discussions that you’d had with him, but many stories and beliefs of his and anecdotes that you’d heard before. But having to go through it all again, and especially the sometimes brutal process of of editing words like that, it must have affected you. Clearly. You and in terms of the father son relationship, quite deeply.

Rob Schwartz: [00:16:18] Yes, absolutely. And truthfully, the story there is that it actually took me a long time to even start grieving my father properly. And I think this is maybe a good thing for people to hear. Just because somebody passes away and you feel sad doesn’t mean that you’re properly grieving them. And kind of almost like I would say, up to even like 4 or 5 years after my father’s death, I was still kind of in denial. And it took me a long time to even start the grieving process properly and then continued into. So it was kind of a continuation of the start and into the editing of this book. And for a long period of time it was a really long grieving process for me. Yeah, Yeah.

Peter Bowes: [00:17:07] And did you know at that point what you wanted to achieve through this book? Essentially, you’re sharing again the legacy of your father, and it comes through very strongly that he had a very firm idea in his own mind what he wanted his legacy to be. And perhaps even your role in generating that legacy. Was that a big part of it?

Rob Schwartz: [00:17:30] Well, I mean, I think there’s two sides to that answer. There’s the legacy side, which you’re talking about, but there’s also the content of the book. So in terms of my father’s legacy, of course, I want to continue to honor that legacy and his ideas and Tuesdays with Morrie and everything that’s out there in the public and all of the people who feel so much affection and goodwill towards my dad. Of course, it’s extremely important to me to honor that and to to bring that forward. And then in, you know, complementary to that is the actual ideas in this book, which are clearly thought out by my father in attempt to help people. I mean, that’s what this book isn’t about. It’s a book that is clearly directed at helping people age. The subtitle of the book or the whole title of the book is The Wisdom of Morrie Living and Aging Creatively and joyfully. And it’s clear that my father is trying to offer first psychological insight as to why people may feel a certain way about aging that they don’t necessarily need to feel. He addresses ageism and how pervasive it is in our society. And then he goes on to give very concrete techniques on how you can try and live more joyfully, more creatively. What you can do if you’re feeling down, analyzes, regret, forgiveness, these sort of big concepts that people have a hard time with. And it’s clear if you read the book, the basis of it is trying to remove stumbling blocks for people. Mainly he aims, he aims it at at seniors, but it’s applicable to anybody of any age who’s having problems, who’s not feeling very joyful in their life or etcetera. He’s trying to remove those stumbling blocks and saying, you know, you can climb over these, you can you can get to a place where you really feel happy and content and creative and, you know, try this or try that. And we can talk about the specific techniques that he suggests.

Peter Bowes: [00:19:30] Yeah. And in fact, you’ve just summarized very nicely really what was one of my first thoughts on reading this book exactly that that it isn’t just a book about someone highlighting the issues of of aging. It really is a book of solutions. And perhaps that goes back to his role as a professor and a teacher, not just laying out a status quo, but looking to the future and suggesting how we can overcome some of these hurdles, whether it’s a physical hurdle, psychological hurdle in our lives and. The point you make about aiming something at an older generation, readers of a certain age might be more interested. That’s often what I find doing this as well. But equally I, I hope, and try to push the debate in the direction of younger people thinking that if if only people of a younger generation would address some of these issues earlier in their lives, well, they might live better lives. To just acknowledge some of these issues, and I think so, absolutely. I totally agree that it is a book that would certainly benefit people of many different ages. One of the sections that I particularly enjoyed reading was, and I referred to it earlier, is about the passage of time or is time in itself then ever being enough time, time moving too quickly? Cherish every moment of the day, those those kinds of thoughts. And I wonder if you could just maybe dive into that for me a little bit, because it’s something that I think about quite a lot. And like you, I’m busy. There’s never enough time. That’s always my issue. I often say, if only there were, you know, 48 hours in a day as opposed to 24. And, you know, it’s something that a lot of people wrestle with.

Rob Schwartz: [00:21:06] Sure. Well, that is a tricky one. I mean, time is particularly a tricky one and it’s tricky for a bunch of reasons, including, see, how can I express it that though we say to ourselves, oh, I must cherish every minute, you know, we tend to somehow not do so. And what does it even mean to cherish every minute? I mean, you can cherish a loved one or an ice cream sundae, but how do you cherish every minute? Right. That that is really a fundamental question. And I would say my father addresses that by being very intentional about what you do. He talks about many techniques which are very intentional from focusing your energy in general on one task or a person to meditation. But I mean, that would be one technique that my father suggests for actually being able to cherish every moment. If we can if we can look at it that way, is being very intentional about what you do. And also, you know, to a certain extent being intentional about what you think about and that directs your feelings. It’s very hard for us to be intentional about our feelings, right? Our feelings just sort of fly off in in the direction without any intention by us for the most part. But if you’re intentional about what you think about and where you direct your energy, then that kind of defines and guides your feelings to the place that you want to be. I think that’s how my father would view it.

Peter Bowes: [00:22:29] Yeah, I agree. Our feelings and our instinctive feelings can be very, very strong and can override. I think anyone who’s tried meditating to to get those negative thoughts, sometimes described as the dark clouds passing over to get those out of your mind and to get into a more of a Zen like state is is easier said than done. And our lives are often dominated by those those darker things and those darker thoughts. So I think the whole issue is is fascinating. Another thing that.

Rob Schwartz: [00:22:59] Well, let me respond to that just for a second, because there is another thing there. I mean, the book is complex and there’s a lot to think about here. But so when you talk about darker thoughts, so my father suggests that it’s not the goal to necessarily eliminate everything negative and just push all of that out of your life. One of my father’s main sort of core philosophical concepts is what he calls the tension of opposites. You’re always going to have happy and sad, you know, whatever enjoyable and not enjoyable. And it’s impossible to push the ones and not even desirable to push the ones on the other end of the spectrum out, he says. You just need to recognize that these two things are connected and accept if you’re feeling sad about something or something in your life has happened, that’s inherently sad, you just need to accept it, realize it’s part of the life process. And if you can come to this sort of understanding of life, it will make you more content and sort of have a more more balanced view of life.

Peter Bowes: [00:23:59] The another thing he writes about is and is this phrase, when we hear it a lot these days, is about living our best life, living the the best life that we can. And I think we we kind of get what that means. But then equally, I often find myself thinking, well, actually, what does that really mean, living my best life? Am I going to be the best at everything I do? Well, clearly, I’m not going to be the best. Or is it applying to my best and just doing my best and not comparing myself to other?

Rob Schwartz: [00:24:29] Well that certainly is true. I mean, the my father addresses this idea that we constantly compare ourselves to other people and think that it’s rather poisonous. But I would think what my father would mean by that phrase and perhaps what we could understand it to mean in general is appealing to your ideals. You’re never going to reach your ideals. You’re never going to live a perfectly ideal life where humans human life is not like that, but you appeal to them. You always appeal to your best self. Maybe. Sometimes you achieve it, sometimes you don’t achieve it. Whether that’s being kind to people, whether that’s, you know, helping the old lady across the road or what have you. You always appeal to your highest self, and if you’re able to reach it, then you should feel extremely happy. And if you’re not able to reach it, you should accept that as part of life and just move on. So I think that’s what my father would mean by living your best life.

Peter Bowes: [00:25:23] Yeah, I think that’s a that’s a good thought. He also writes about feeling a responsibility to help people celebrate the aging process. And I have lots of debates with people about what it means to age and grow old. And just the very phrase growing old is has a negative connotation for most people. The aging process, which I see as a chronological process, it’s something that affects us all and it moves forward. And it’s and it is inevitable that there might be things, interventions that we can apply to ourselves, diet and exercise and that kind of thing that can slow the biological aging process. But basically we’re all getting older. But but celebrating that aging process is something, isn’t it, that a lot of people find extremely difficult to do? It’s almost counter-intuitive to the way that they’ve been brought up.

Rob Schwartz: [00:26:10] Absolutely. This is a deep one. This is this is and my father touches on a lot of different things. So I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to synthesize them all together. But certainly he writes in the beginning of the book that, you know, growing old is a reward. And he used to make a joke that, you know, growing old is tough, but it beats the alternative. Right. And that that’s basically true, right? You have two choices. You can get older or you can die. And we all prefer to get older. So if you look at it from that mindset that going, going, getting older is a reward that not everybody gets this reward, whether it’s based on the kind of life they lived or not, is completely irrelevant. People, some people are just not, you know, lucky enough to experience this phase of their life. And if you look at it that way, you can look at it as something really to be celebrated. You’re lucky to get here, right? It’s certainly not guaranteed to anybody, you know, And we know plenty of great people who are beautiful souls who died very young. Right. History is littered with them, not to mention the fact that history is littered with the fact that people just didn’t live as long as we do now. I mean, the living to 100 is not so unusual or even 95. It’s not so unusual these days. 40 years ago, it was completely unheard of to live. And that’s only 40 or 50 years ago. Forget 150 years ago when people died at 60, you know, so or 2 or 300 years ago when people died at 50, you know. So you can look at it as a as a reward and as something that that you’re lucky to achieve. That’s the sort of overall, if you can put it in that overall context, you can kind of celebrate it. But my father writes very specifically that he wouldn’t trade places with a younger person that the experience and the understanding of life that you’ve gained in this stage is really is something to be celebrated and something to be enjoyed that younger people just don’t have any idea about because they don’t have the experience. So he really is trying to to say to people this is something to be celebrated. And if you look at it that way, not only are you going to enjoy it more, but you’re also much likely more likely to continue to live to live a longer life. And he quotes some studies and a study and a whole book was just written by a Yale University neuroscientist named Becca Levy. Becca Levy I can’t remember the name of the book, but if you look up Becca Levy, Yale University, you will find the book. And her findings were just remarkable. I think she found that if you have a positive attitude about life and aging, you’re likely to live 7.5 years longer and have a 50%, 50% less chance of developing Alzheimer’s. And that’s solely just based on your attitude about your life.

Peter Bowes: [00:29:08] Yeah, and I think that’s hugely powerful. The word I often use, by the way, is privilege your privilege to grow older for all the reasons that you’ve just described, but especially when you think of what we all know people, individuals, whether they’re friends, family, acquaintances who’ve died way too young for for whatever reasons. And if you get to even 50, 60, 70, let alone 90 and 100 and you’re still going, I think that is a privilege. But in terms of that study, you’re absolutely right that and it’s hugely powerful, isn’t it? Just the the powerful effect of optimism, if you compare it with the other interventions, the more common interventions I’ve already mentioned that refer to diet and exercise and getting enough sleep, all of which are important, but just that positive mindset. And I’ve seen that in really old people that I’ve interviewed that get to a certain. Age, then maybe haven’t always been 100%, you know, ideal diet or exercise program, but they have a positivity about them and a social life as well, which an ability to get on with people and to meet people and to look forward to meeting people tomorrow. That is hugely powerful in keeping people going.

Rob Schwartz: [00:30:17] Absolutely. Absolutely. And a couple of things I want to say about that. I mean, I was shocked by this study. She just published it like a couple of years ago. So it wasn’t available to my father. But that that is a really, really stunning numbers. But I mean, my dad’s book, which is called The Wisdom of Morrie, Living in Aging creatively and joyfully, he intentionally it’s not just his writing. I’m sure you noticed this when when you read it, it’s full of stories of, you know, aging people who have done remarkable things with their life or have remarkable plans. You know, the 95 year old guy who’s just graduated from college who plans to become a doctor, you know, these stories are meant to inspire. People are meant to try and dispel this notion that at this stage in your life that you can’t do anything If you can believe you can do something, you can do it for. You know, that’s not true 1,000%, but it’s largely true. Right. And that’s what my father is getting at in this book. And that’s why he fills it with stories and poetry and newspaper articles and, you know, magazine articles. He fills it with all different kinds of writing. So it’s not just his voice saying, you can do this. He’s saying, look at all these examples of people who have done it right. And I think that that’s a powerful and, you know, effective technique that he uses. And you don’t read a lot of books like that where people use lots of different newspaper articles and poetry and stories of individual people. All the names have been changed because, you know, it’s not specifically important to, you know, include the historical person. But the story itself is incredibly important.

Peter Bowes: [00:32:00] And you’re right, it is extremely deep, this book. There are many, many important nuances to the story. And it’s difficult in a conversation like this to fully do justice to them. And I would strongly recommend you need to read it or indeed listen to it. There’s an audio version as well to fully appreciate the thoughts and as I say, the sort of deep nuances to the appreciation of life that your dad had. I’m curious, in terms of having gone through this process, obviously knowing your dad as you did editing this book, has it affected how you live your life now and as how you approach and see the future, the coming years, the coming decades? Reading and learning from the lessons of your father. Has it skewed the way in which you look at life?

Rob Schwartz: [00:32:49] Yeah, I would hope that, you know, since I was raised by my father and we had a very, very close relationship, I would hope that I had integrated some of these ideas and some of these philosophies into my life prior to reading and editing this book. But I think, yeah, I think it has affected me in some of the things that that he’s shown in so many different ways in the book. I think I’ve always had a positive attitude, but you know, maybe it can improve that, whether it’s 5% or 10% or whatever, who knows, or take up some of the other techniques that or maybe even some of the more specific things, because there’s a lot of techniques. But he also analyzes one of the big ones for me or two of them, let’s say regret and forgiveness. He really analyzes regret because we all have regret and it’s not a nice feeling. And he puts it in the context of, okay, you have this regret. So first of all, don’t deny that you have this regret. And then secondly, let’s analyze it and see how we can use this to be better in the future. And that’s always his his take on things is how can we use this to benefit us and make us happier and better in the future? There’s no reason to stew in sadness or regret and let it eat away at us that that is the wrong way to go about it. So that that has been very useful for me.

Peter Bowes: [00:34:15] Yeah, I think that’s really interesting because how many times have I seen interviews of people read interviews where people actually claim to have no regrets, have lived a life, got to a point where they are and have no regrets.

Rob Schwartz: [00:34:27] I don’t want to be controversial or aggressive. But they’re lying. There’s nobody that has no regrets.

Peter Bowes: [00:34:34] I agree with you. Yeah, that’s my thought. And the point is obviously acknowledging your regrets and acknowledging that it’s normal. It’s normal to look back and think, well, I wish I hadn’t done that or I wish this hadn’t panned out in this certain way and that if I had my time again, maybe I would do it differently. Clearly, that is part of life. We can’t have our time again. We can’t change things, but we can. I think this is the point is that we can learn from them and we can move forward.

Rob Schwartz: [00:35:03] And just to make a little bit more clarity on that, they may be lying to themselves. They may not feel like they’re lying to you. They may be so worried or scared or ashamed of their regret that they can’t admit it to themselves. And that’s where they’re at, you know, psychologically, emotionally. Okay. You know, we don’t want to say that they’re bad people, but I can imagine it’s beyond my imagination to live through life and not have one single regret.

Peter Bowes: [00:35:28] Yeah. No, I’m with you on that. Or maybe half a dozen or so. Who knows?

Rob Schwartz: [00:35:31] At least.

Peter Bowes: [00:35:32] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So this is a podcast about human longevity, living long, living well, for as long as we can. It’s not particularly about being immortal or living forever, which is interesting, but it’s not something that I think at least in our lifetime, it’s something we can probably aspire to. But it is about positively looking ahead to the future. And I’m always curious in terms of the people I talk to, what your vision of the future is. Indeed, whether you think about your own longevity and live your life in a certain way, maybe without thinking about it all the time, but maybe purposefully live your life in a certain way to achieve longevity and what that means to you.

Rob Schwartz: [00:36:13] Sure. Well, I certainly think about it. And I certainly I mean, there is longevity in my family, especially on my mother’s side. My father was 78. He was extremely healthy. So if he hadn’t developed ALS and he developed it at a very late age, which is very unusual to develop ALS at 75 years old, extremely unusual. But if he hadn’t developed ALS, I’m sure he would have lived for a long time. His brother, my uncle, who had polio as a child and walked with a significant limp, lived to 95, and that was a boy who developed polio as a child. So, you know, that’s pretty impressive. My mother just passed away two years ago at 98. She had an uncle who lived to 99. I had an aunt who lived to 95, so there’s relative longevity in my family. I certainly try and eat right, exercise, do all the things that they say. In fact, I do watch a lot of YouTube and and podcasts and you have to. Judge them against each other. Some are a little bit more commercial than others. They’re trying to get you to buy something or do something. I mean, I did watch one YouTube series from actually it wasn’t even on YouTube. This was on television of a doctor who was claiming that you could actually reverse the aging process. I’m not sure about those claims. I mean, I know about some of the supplements and some of the, you know, different techniques that are being developed these days. I won’t take any position on that, but I certainly think about my longevity and and try and, you know, live the the best life I can to to the fullest extent and sort of what that means to me. And I think that this is something that my father also emphasizes in the book, because one of the things that we haven’t talked about till now is what does it mean to live a full life, to live, you know, to to, you know, let’s call it your best self or your greatest extent. And for my dad, it’s all about your human relationships. It’s all about the people in your life connecting with them, really communicating with them, loving them, and also strengthening all the other relationships in your life and even creating new relationships. And that’s what he talks a lot about in the book. He’s like elderly people feel like they can’t go out and talk to people or make new relationships or, you know, create something new in their life and that that’s a really poor way to go about it. You need or it’s very useful to go out and do that. And my father offers lots of techniques on how to do that. So I think that he would really emphasize the relationships in your life and being as loving as you can towards the people who are important to you. And that’s something that I try and do.

Peter Bowes: [00:39:09] Well, interesting you should raise that because I was going as a final thought really to ask you about your – we’ve talked about legacy and if indeed there is a legacy from your dad’s work, it is perhaps in that area about human relationships as we move forward and as we continue our own human relationships and perhaps more crucially, start new relationships with people, friendships with people to help us age purposefully and positively and maybe not dwell on some of the physical negatives of aging.

Rob Schwartz: [00:39:40] Absolutely. And I mean, I’ll even put in a larger context. I mean, you’re absolutely right on that. It is part of his legacy and it’s part of his legacy that goes all the way through his professional work. It’s not just this one. So I’ll just touch on it briefly. I write about it in the essay, the first essay that I put in the book. As I mentioned, he wrote a watershed work in 1954, which is called The Mental Hospital. It completely change the way mental hospitals or for the ones who took it on board, operated psychiatrists and psychologists use it as a textbook for decades. And basically the insight that it had that people had never thought about before was that the relationships all around, let’s say somebody who has mental issues are extremely important. So obviously people understood the relationship between the doctor and the patient is very important. But my father pointed out, well, the relationship between the doctor and the nurse, if they’re angry at each other, that’s going to have a huge effect on the patient or the relationship between two nurses If they’re fighting or they’re catty towards each other, that’s going to have a huge effect on the on the patient. So basically, he’s outlining how all human relationships in our life around us are so extremely important and we really need to treat them with the utmost care. And, you know, it’s not easy. Life can be hard. You can be angry. You can be disappointed. It’s difficult not to express it or take it out on the person who’s close to you or your friends or whatever. But my father, in that work and throughout his life, throughout his other writings, is aiming at shining a light on that, trying to get people to focus on it and perhaps, you know, help them take more care in those relationships.

Peter Bowes: [00:41:29] Yeah, we’re all we’re all connected, whether it be physically, mentally, we’re all there’s this huge sort of spider’s web of of life and that beautifully encapsulates it. Rob This has been a really fascinating conversation. I will hugely recommend your book, The Wisdom of Morrie. Thank you. Really good to talk to you and all the best for the future.

Rob Schwartz: [00:41:49] Thank you so much, Peter.

The Live Long and Master Aging podcast, a HealthSpan Media LLC production, shares ideas but does not offer medical advice.  If you have health concerns of any kind, or you are considering adopting a new diet or exercise regime, you should consult your doctor. The information contained within this interview is for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.

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