Researchers for the last 20 years have been on a quest to find out what it takes to age successfully. What they found was that while nutrition and exercise are key elements of a healthy, disease-resistant body but what matters just as much are the attitudes and mind-sets that guide our lives. As it turns out, good health may or may not make us happy, but happiness without a question contributes mightily to good health.
Happiness. What is it, anyway?
On any given day, we all tend to be a bundle of emotions and moods, from angry to ecstatic and bored to bubbly. It’s naïve to think that we could all exist in a steady state of smiles. Concepts like joy, purpose, and self-worth are far too complicated to reduce to a yes-or-no question of “Are you happy?” If only there were some type of measuring machine, like a blood pressure kit, that could tell us our happiness levels on a numbered scale. Now that would be useful!
Lucky for us Researchers have come up with the next best thing. They’ve identified the specific attitudes, lifestyle choices, and personal traits that best contribute to both long life and long health.
It’s no surprise that these positive traits are deeply enmeshed in the cultures of long-lived people. On the Japanese Island of Okinawa, home to the world’s largest concentration of healthy, happy people over the age of 100, people embrace a “don’t worry, be happy” philosophy of life called taygay that minimizes stress and protects people’s emotions from life’s arrows.
Okinawans also practice a deep, meditative spirituality that links them with their ancestors, their gods, and the universe. They stay connected with friends, family, and neighbors. Okinawan village life is based on the value of yuimaru, or mutual assistance. Friends, coworkers, or neighbors meet regularly in groups called moais, where everyone puts a little money into a pot, and whoever needs it most take it home. Elder Okinawans are proud of their status and revered by their communities – something Western cultures would do well to imitate. Here, there’s no word for “retirement”. And most older people to not feel lonely.
The benefits of positive attitudes and practices like these don’t manifest themselves in the distant future. Optimism, resilience, social activities, and faith make today better. And, as revealed in Okinawa, they also make you more likely to enjoy life many years from now.
The bottom line: If you think that living a healthy lifestyle is just about food and exercise, you are badly mistaken. Everyday attitudes are as important to your health, short and long term, as anything else you can do.
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