Becky Ross, an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at Yakima Valley Memorial hospital

Becky Ross, an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at Yakima Valley Memorial hospital, demonstrates how she checks a patient’s monitor inside the ICU at the hospital in Yakima, Wash.

Life’s been tough these past few years. That’s not exactly news to anybody.

But recent reports on U.S. life expectancy statistics are news. And frankly, that news is unsettling.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American lifespan has decreased by nearly three years since 2020. The decline is even more dramatic among American Indians and Alaska Native peoples, whose life expectancy has fallen by nearly seven years, from 71.8 to 65.2.

A lot of that, of course, is because COVID-19 has cut so many American lives short. An Oxford University study found similar declines in 27 of 29 first-world countries.

COVID’s not the only culprit, though.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune last week, Sally Pipes — president, CEO and Thomas W. Smith fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute — noted that another significant factor has been “unintentional injuries.”

Car wrecks, drug overdoses, gun violence — categories in which Americans routinely outpace all other affluent countries.

In short, some of this is our own fault.

We drive like idiots, thoughtlessly throw back dangerous substances and insist on keeping as many weapons as possible within easy reach.

With so many people scoffing at masks and vaccines, we’ve even made COVID worse for ourselves — and our neighbors.

As alarming and tragic as these new statistics are, maybe we’re asking the wrong questions as we analyze them.

Instead of wondering how this could happen in a country with some of the most sophisticated medical care in the world, we should ask ourselves how wise some our individual choices have been lately.

Why do we fly in the face of common sense? Why do we assume we’re invincible?

Maybe it’s the result of years of neglecting — and lately, even deriding — our educational systems. Maybe it’s too many crackpots on TV and social media constantly feeding us their false or disturbingly distorted takes on history, politics, science, religion. Or maybe it’s deadly decisions driven by the desperation of poverty.

Name your poison. All of those factors share some blame.

Ultimately, though, we’re all responsible for our own behaviors. In the end, we’re the culprits here. We can be our own saviors or our own worst enemies.

A wise man once said that the meaning of life is that it ends. That can be a sobering or an empowering thought.

Yes, our time is limited. But our choices don’t have to be.

Yakima Herald-Republic editorials reflect the collective opinion of the newspaper’s local editorial board.