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Forgetting To Die
By Nick Jacobs

Nick JacobsI recently have become a fan and ardent follower of Dan Buettner, whose fascinating research the past 15 years or so has focused on what he calls “Blue Zones”—the five places in the world where people seemingly simply forget to die.

In these places, which include Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece, residents live into their late 90s and often beyond 100. A National Geographic Fellow and New York Times bestselling author, Buettner said he found that only 10 to 20 percent of longevity is dictated by genetics; nor did the folks he studied in the Blue Zones live longer because of diets, treadmills or supplements.

Rather, common factors shared by those who lived long included having a great sense of purpose to their lives and a need to move physically every 20 minutes in response to their geography. These individuals were energized by belonging to what they called “Like-tribes” that kept people on the right track. They lived in interconnected, mutually supportive clusters of behavior, which helped them to do the rights long enough to not get disease.

Put simply, one of the people Buettner interviewed said, “Eat without gluttony. Drink without getting drunk. Argue but don’t go to bed mad. And occasionally, with great discretion, misbehave.”

Adding to these enlightening findings is the work of Harvard’s Mike Norton, who visited three continents to ask this question: Do you think life is short and hard or long and easy? Those selecting “long and easy” were always happier, 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.

Getting back to Buettner, he 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. Education for both men and women is an important key to happiness, 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.

Buettner also recommends meditation, financial security over consumption, big windows for lots of light, a front porch, and having a best friend at work.

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. And you just might have a lot more years left to enjoy that happiness.

Nick Jacobs of Pittsburgh is a Principal with SunStone Management Resources and author of the blog healinghospitals.com

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