Look Younger, Be Healthier, Be Happier, Live Longer…with Blue Zone’s Dan Buettner

Today’s post is a bit of a departure for Health Habits.

Instead of me rambling on about how you can look younger, be healthier, be happier, live longer, I am going to post a Twitter Chat that I just had with one of my own personal health & fitness experts –  Dan Buettner, founder, author and CEO of Blue Zones

For those of you unfamiliar with Dan and/or his work promoting lifestyle habits associated with Blue Zones around the world, Blue Zone is a concept to identify a demographic and/or geographic area of the world where people live measurably longer lives.

The concept grew out of demographic work done by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, who identified Sardinia’s Nuoro province as the region with the highest concentration of male centenarians. As the two men zeroed in on the cluster of villages with the highest longevity, they drew concentric blue circles on the map and began referring to the area inside the circle as the Blue Zone.

Note – In an effort to introduce you to some of the people that I am influenced by, I will be posting more of these Look Younger, Be Healthier, Be Happier, Live Longer articles in the future. Some will follow the Twitter Chat format, others will be more of a traditional Q & A.

If you want me to interview someone in particular, feel free to leave a comment.

Okay…here’s my chat with Blue Zone’s Dan Buettner.

What to do when Life Sucks

Sometimes life sucks.

  • You have a bad day at work
  • You sat in traffic for hours
  • Your “fat clothes” are fitting way too tight
  • You’re sick of being single
  • You’re sick of being married
  • A dog pooped on your front lawn

In response, you:

  • Smack-talk your boss behind their back, or
  • Give the finger to the jerk who cut you off in traffic, or
  • Eat an entire bag of Oreos, or
  • Cry, scream, punch, swear, drink, etc…

And after all that…your life still kinda sucks…maybe even a little worse.

If this sounds like you (me) and you are open to breaking a few of your bad habits, you might want to listen to the words of Pema Chödrön – an American Buddhist who is the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia.

In her book Taking the Leap, Pema Chödrön talks a lot about the Tibetan Buddhist concept of shenpa.

Shenpa is that feeling of being very uncomfortable and having an immediate desire to get away from that feeling as fast as possible. It’s kind of like we are like little kids stricken with a nasty case of poison ivy. The itch is horrible and all we want to do is scratch and scratch and scratch. Unfortunately, scratching makes poison ivy worse.

In real life, when we experience something unpleasant, shenpa kicks in and instigates a strong desire to do “something” to try and make the unpleasantness stop.

That “something” could include the aforementioned smack-talking, finger-waving, over-eating, bad tv watching, cigarette smoking, etc, etc, etc…

Unfortunately for you, giving into shenpa usually makes things worse in real life too.

  1. It relieves our suffering for only a very short amount of time, and
  2. After which, we return to the same problems we had before we inhaled those Oreos
  3. Only now we have to deal with the after-effects of our shenpa over-reaction.

Obesity, traffic tickets, unemployment, alcoholism, a punch in the nose, etc…

Chödrön suggests a different approach.

Instead of running away from life’s bad news….sit with it.

Pay attention to what has just happened and how it makes you feel. Don’t react. Pay attention. And then do what you can to make the crappy stuff a little bit better.

Kind of like putting calamine lotion on poison ivy instead of scratching it.

Busyness = Happiness

Let’s face facts: You’re lazy

  • You watch tv instead of tackling that pile of dirty laundry.
  • You surf the net instead of getting some exercise.
  • You play video games instead of preparing a healthy meal for tomorrow’s lunch

And you’re not alone. Even me…Mr. Health Habits can be a lazy couch potato (usually during NFL Sunday afternoons).

But, what if I told you that waaaayyyyyy down deep in your primal DNA, you actually hate being lazy and instead you crave activity.

What if I told you that for each & every one of us….busyness = happyness….Would you believe me?

Would you believe these scientists when they hypothesize that:

  1. People dread idleness and desire busyness, but
  2. Without a reason to get busy, we revert to laziness.

The Science

The researchers grabbed 98 college students and told them to fill out a bunch of surveys about their school and that they could do nothing else during the experiment.
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BORING.
  • After leaving their belongings (e.g., cell phones, books) with the experimenter, participants were given the first survey.
  • Upon finishing the survey, they were told that the second survey would not be ready for another 15 min and that they were to drop their completed first survey at a designated location during the waiting period.
  • There were two such locations, one nearby (right outside the room) and the other far away (a 12- to 15-min round-trip walk).
  • Participants could either deliver the survey to the nearby location and wait out the remaining time (the idle option) or deliver the survey to the faraway location, return, and then wait out the remaining time (the busy option).
  • In both cases, they would receive a piece of candy when they dropped off the survey, as a token of appreciation.
  • Some participants were told that the candy was the same in both locations while others were told that there were 2 different types of candy and that they would be chosen at random.
At the end of the 15-min waiting period, all participants were given a second questionnaire that asked, “How good did you feel in the last 15 minutes?”
Responses were made on a scale from 1 (not good at all) to 5 (very good)
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The Results
  1. In the “same candy” group, most participants were lazy and chose the closer location
  2. However, in the “random candy” group, more participants chose the faraway or “busy” location

The potential of a “better” candy was enough of an incentive to convince the participants to reject the “lazy” option and to choose the “busy” option.

And when they were asked how they felt during the past 15 minutes:
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  • The participants who chose the faraway or “busy” option were universally happier than the lazy participants.

 

Conclusions

  1. We’re happier when we are busy
  2. We’re less happy when we are lazy
  3. And yet, without a “reason”, we choose laziness over busyness.

As if being happy wasn’t enough of a reason.

Want To Be Happier?…Part Two

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a recent study (by researcher Dr. Steven Toepfer) which showed that the SECRET to HAPPINESS is GRATITUDE.

All that research got me thinking…Which scenario is better for your health / longevity?

  1. To be overweight, but happy, or
  2. To be lean but unhappy

After an informal poll, I discovered that an overwhelming number of people think that happiness is more important than a healthy bodyweight when it comes to your overall health and longevity. And I would have to agree with the majority.

In response to my findings, I thought that I should present a little more information about the psychology of happiness.

Here are some of my favorite speakers on the psycology of happiness:

Tal Ben Shahar – Positive Psychology

Shawn Achor – Positive Psychology

Robert Holden – The Happiness Project

happiness-now

Martin Seligman – The Father of Positive Psychology

Link to Dr. Seligman's talk at TED

Related Posts

Want To Be Happier?

HAPPINESS

We all want it and most of us have no idea how to get it. Until now???

According to researcher Dr. Steven Toepfer, THE SECRET TO HAPPINESS IS GRATITUDE.

I can hear you asking…Gratidtude for what? The economy is going down the tubes, we are running out of oil, I am working harder and longer than ever before and I still may lose my job, and on top of that, there’s the threats of terrorism and global warming.

According to Kent State University’s Dr. Steven Toepfer, we have been going about it all wrong.

“Everyone is pursuing the American dream. We are wealthier than previous generations, consuming more and experiencing more, but yet so many of us are so unhappy,” Toepfer says.

“The question of ‘is there something simple we can do to be happier?‘ is one that he has been thinking about for many years and one that has interested people for much longer.”

With that question in mind, Toepfer enlisted a group of students to explore the effects of writing letters of gratitude to people who had positively impacted the students’ lives.

Over the course of a six-week period, students wrote one letter every two weeks with the simple ground rules that it had to be positively expressive, required some insight and reflection, were nontrivial and contained a high level of appreciation or gratitude.

After each letter, students completed a survey to gauge their moods, satisfaction with life and feelings of gratitude and happiness.

“I saw their happiness increase after each letter. The more they wrote, the better they felt,” says Toepfer, who also witnessed improvement in participants’ life satisfaction and gratitude throughout the study.

“The most powerful thing in our lives is our social network.

It doesn’t have to be large, and you don’t always need to be the life of the party, but just having one or two significant connections in your life has shown to have terrific psychological and physical benefits.”

In all, 75 percent of the students said they planned to continue to write letters of gratitude even when the course was over.

“We are all walking around with an amazing resource: gratitude,” says Toepfer. “It helps us express and enjoy, appreciate, be thankful and satisfied with a little effort.

We all have it, and we need to use it to improve our quality of life.”

An Extra Bonus

And if that wasn’t enough, there is a growing body of research showing that positive emotions such as happiness are linked to good health and increased longevity.

This 2006 study showed that a PES (Positive Emotional Style – or happiness for the non-science geeks reading this) was associated with an increased resistance to the common cold and the influenza virus.

Conclusion

I must admit that when it comes to making health claims, I need proof. But when it comes to happiness, or examining the impact of happiness on my health / longevity, proof is a little hard to come by.

It is difficult to distinguish between the effects of positive and negative emotions. For example, do elderly living on their own or with family live longer because they are happy or because they are not sad?

It’s not a simple equation. However, modern medicine has no problem stating that emotional stress is a very real threat to our health.

So, why shouldn’t happiness be a very real benefit to our health?

Want to Be Happier – Part 2

References