As such, socially conscious researchers have always made a point of trying to figure out how to make life a little less horrible for those slogging through their autumn years. And, you know, to hopefully do it in a way that doesn't boil down to "Buy them high-priced whores every month." Fortunately, there is one simple, dirt-cheap method: Give them a houseplant, and make them take care of it.
"This is my granddaughter, Jocelyn."
That's it. In research conducted back in 1976, scientists gave 91 retirement home residents their own houseplants to take care of, probably at least the third shittiest gift any of them had received that week. Half of the residents were told to care for the damn thing themselves, while for the other half, the plant was taken care of by the nursing staff. When they followed up, they found that the mortality rate for those who looked after their own plant was 50 percent lower, and those residents were in better health overall.
So, what's the deal here? Well, the researchers hypothesize that it has something to do with "locus of control," or more simply, whether or not you feel as though you have some control over events in the world. You've seen this at work -- how much more satisfying is it to build or create something with your name on it versus just grinding out your day in a cubicle, counting the seconds until lunch rolls around?
Feeling as though you personally make a difference in your world vastly improves your mindset. Hell, it's the only reason most people get out of bed in the morning.
"If I die, who will watch my plant not die?"
The science backs us up; this mentality is actually the best predictor of quality of life among nursing home residents, the one place where control is so scarce that just feeding a plant makes all the difference.
Obviously, though, you want to make sure it's a hardy plant, because if it dies, its carer can wind up feeling more depressed. For the best results, we would suggest plastic.
Or the potted plant equivalent of Rasputin, a cactus.