One conclusion to draw from her book is that we do not just need better doctors: we need better patients. And we only become better patients by becoming better people. By “better people,” she seems to mean people who are capable of acknowledging reality, embracing limits, and refusing to be drawn into fear of inevitable events (such as death) or loathing of incremental changes that we experience only if we are quite fortunate (such as aging). Her version of self-improvement not only has the potential to increase our happiness by increasing our peace with world as it is, but it also stands as a fairly radical form of resistance against the juggernaut of for-profit forces that would usurp our relationship to morality in a way that intensifies our fears and coddles our worst inclinations toward entitlement—the sense that I deserve the same body at seventy that I had at twenty, and a life that goes as long as I want it to go. The problem with the for-profit wellness industry is that the only real motives the corporation can tap into are our desire to be desirable, and our fear of death. But the desire to be desirable can so easily become a plasticized substitute for, or obstacle to, real love. And the fear of death, with no grasp of what makes a life truly good, is the stupendously irrational desire for mere duration. We become obsessed with multiplying the days of our life, despite the fact that we are unhappy and dissatisfied with each of the actual days we currently live. Indeed, our current emphasis on the quantity of our days might be related to our loss of a coherent account for what constitutes true quality in a day, what makes a day, or a life, genuinely good.
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org