Happiness the key to longevity?

By Nick Jacobs | Published in The Herald Standard on March 13, 2018

Over the past two months, I’ve become an ardent follower of National Geographic Fellow and New York Times bestselling author, Dan Buettner. He is the founder of the Blue Zones and Blue Zones LLC. Dan has spent the last 15 years or so studying the five places in the world where people simply forget to die. They live into their late 90s and early 100s and include places like Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, CA; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece.

In his original book, Dan found that only 10 to 20 percent of longevity is dictated by genes. In those areas where people lived longer it was not because of diets, treadmills or supplements. “Long life was not something they pursued. It was something that ensued.”

These long-lived people had a great sense of purpose to their lives, were nudged into movement about every 20 minutes by their geography, were completely energized by being in what he described as “Like-tribes” that help keep people on the right track, and were facilitated by living in the right community. They lived in interconnected, mutually supportive clusters of behavior allowing them to do the right thing long enough not to get disease.

He then changed his focus slightly to attempt to determine where the happiest places were in the world. What he found might throw some of you for a loop, but for many of us, it’s that not so common, common sense that our grandparents, parents and friends have shared with us throughout our lives.

Mike Norton from Harvard asked this question on three continents: Do you think life is short and hard or long and easy? The people who selected long and easy were always happier, and they were also more civic-minded and generous. In fact, they were 40 percent happier, 30 percent more likely to vote, and 60 percent more likely to donate money. So when you have your next fundraising event, invite only generous, civic-minded, happy people.

Dan Buettner worked with Google, Gallup and the University of Pennsylvania and discovered that the 50 billion Google searches they analyzed were more predictive of happiness than either age or income. They found, for example, that people who own dogs are happier than people who own cats. People who like action movies or comedies are happier than those looking for romance movies.

From his world studies, he found that gender equality is important. In fact, it makes the men happier when women are treated equally. (Read that again, guys.) Education for both men and women is an important key to happiness, not PhD education, but at least a high school education because educated girls become educated mothers and produce better everything.

They found that healthcare -- not America’s sick care, but genuine health care which includes prevention and wellness -- is a great predictor of happiness, and countries where there is complete healthcare equality is where the happiest people live.

Happy people place their values on family, some type of belief system, face to face conversations, walking to the church, market and friends' homes, laughter, and seven hours of sleep a day. They also take all their vacation days, try new things and have some type of intimate relations at least twice a week.

So, own a dog, socialize, stay married if you can, pick a job you love over money, give something back, and most importantly, pick where you live because that is the single most important happiness indicator. If you live in an unhappy place and move to a happy one, you will be exponentially happier within a year.

He also recommends meditation, financial security over consumption, big windows for lots of light, a front porch and having a best friend at work. Armando Fuentes said, “Eat without gluttony, drink without drunkenness, love without jealousy, argue but don’t go to bed mad, and occasionally, with great discretion, misbehave.”

Check off your happiness boxes, and make some changes.