How important is a “will to live” as regards health, recovery from illness and longevity?
To me there are two very distinct things.
Certainly the will to live is important in many situations.
The “will to live” can have a myriad of influences on many systems within the body.
And the body has many systems that essentially maintain themselves independent of any “will to live”. This seems to be how evolution works. Layer upon layer of self sustaining systems open to influence from other layers of systems. Our top level conscious systems can and do have influence on all the lower layers.
I have willed myself to live in many situations, where it would have been a lot easier and less painful to just give up and stop.
The will to live is an important part of the multilevel set of systems that is us; and it is just one of many influences.
And for the will to live to make a differences, other aspects of the environment need to be within survivable limits, on many different dimensions – temperature, food, water, air, social relationships, self development – a very complex set of interacting factors, changing any one changes the influence of all others also.
You said “Successful suicides indicate a strong will to die and no will to live” which to me is misleading.
I think everyone has a will to live, and everyone is a complex mix of many different factors, and the strength of all of these things varies with time.
Last week a friend suicided. Doug was a really nice guy, successful farmer, sensitive. He lived for over 50 years, then for a few minutes, depression and hopelessness got the better of him, and he suicided. Like many people, he had a life long battle with depression, with high sensitivity to outside influences.
I wouldn’t call that a will to die exactly, I just call it an unfortunate overlap of a set of influences (genetic and cultural). If anything had been around to distract him through the depth of that depressive cycle, he might well be here today, but it didn’t and he isn’t.
I think Doug had a strong will to live, it just got overwhelmed for long enough that he isn’t any longer.
I know that about 35 years ago I had about 30 seconds where I decided to suicide, and lined my motorcycle up with a concrete power pole and opened the throttle. About 3 seconds from the pole my mind changed and I turned away. I haven’t ever tried again, and I haven’t felt that hopeless and overwhelmed since. I often wonder how many vehicle “accidents” are suicides. So I have a certain sympathy with Doug, and many others I have known (Paul, and Max in particular), who were not lucky enough to have their minds change in time.
For me, suicide is a very complex thing, that cannot be boiled down to the simple statement you made.