“The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

Older adults are not any wiser than younger ones. However, changes in perspective do accompany age. Ask people who they would rather spend 30 minutes with, an author whose book they like, a new acquaintance with whom they share interests, or a family member, and older adults more often prefer the family member.

According to socio-emotional selectivity theory, when we perceive death as being closer we shift our focus from future- and knowledge-related goals to pleasure-related goals, placing a greater importance on close relationships that bring us joy.

Age is not the only way to gain perspective. In one study, researchers surveyed people before and after 9/11 and then again four months later. Because 9/11 made everyone ponder death, people of all ages tended to value close relationships more during the aftermath. Four months later things were already returning to normal. The same occurred during the 2003 SARS outbreak in Hong Kong.


The quote from young Arnold seems very much to be a product of feeling invincible and perceiving his future as more open-ended than finite. This is natural. Today he likely places less emphasis on “conquering” and more on his family and close friends.

Who would you spend your 30 minutes with?


2 thoughts on ““The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

  1. I like this! It reminds me of all the work on mortality salience–but slightly different. Terror Management Theorists (who are the ones primarily capitalizing on MS studies) would contend that people’s focus shift to family stems from an attempt to “reduce the terror at recognizing their inevitable death.” However, this theoretical perspective doesn’t seem to totally capture what you’re describing here. Interesting stuff!


    1. Just did some reading on TMT and mortality salience. Pretty interesting! It seems like there was also a very patriotic pro-America response to 9/11, which is totally consistent with TMT. Because the attacks made death salient national identity became more important to people. This would be hard to explain using socio-emotional selectivity theory so both theories are probably valuable. Thanks for the thought-provoking comments, Jake!


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