SIX PRACTICES FOR A LONGER AND HAPPIER LIFE
by Liv Constantine
Most of us have a pretty good understanding of the things we need to do in order to try and keep our bodies healthy. We educate ourselves about nutrition, buy real food, make time for exercise and see our health care providers regularly.
But what about those non-physical things––the things that have been shown to add years, well-being, and happiness to our life.
Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” has this to say: “A long healthy life is no accident. It begins with good genes, but it also depends on good habits.”
Here are 6 simple habits that might not only prolong your life, but also make it the best life it can be. And the great part is that these are all tools we have access to every day.
1. Practice Gratitude
It has been said that it’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, but gratitude that brings us happiness. Your quality of life can be tremendously improved by being thankful every day. Start a gratitude journal and take 10 minutes to jot down a few things you are grateful for before bed. According to a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being
, you may sleep better and longer. People who count their blessings instead of their burdens are shown to have less physical pain, decreased depression and blood pressure, and reduced stress. Focusing on what we are thankful for makes us kinder, more trusting, more social, and more appreciative. This quote from Melody Beattie says it all: “What you focus on expands. Focusing on the good things you’re grateful for creates more good things.”
2. Laugh often
Did you know that laughter boosts your immune system? A study done at Indiana State School of Nursing shows that deep laughter increases natural killer cell levels, a type of white blood cell that attacks cancer cells. And according to the Mayo Clinic, laughter increases blood flow and oxygenation, triggering the release of endorphins that make us relax. Laughter relieves pain and lowers blood pressure by decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A high level of cortisol is a factor in heart disease, cancer and dementia. Here are four comics still going strong in their nineties––Mel Brooks, 93; Dick VanDyke, 93; Norman Lear, 97; Betty White, 97. So watch a comedy or read a funny book. Listen to your favorite comedian and laugh with friends. Remember that life is funny
3. Meditate Daily
A daily meditation practice can change your life. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found meditation was not only about as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression, but also helpful in reducing anxiety, stress, and pain. Those who practice meditation daily, report feeling happier and more content with their lives. They have a sense of well-being and calm that takes them through the day with equanimity and balance. Sit with yourself for 15 minutes each morning for a time of quiet and see the results.
4. Find your inner spirituality
According to research by Dan Buettner (The Blue Zones), “Having a faith-based community can add four to fourteen years…” to your life. Spirituality is an extremely personal experience and your individual path is unique to you, but spirituality is linked to less depression, greater ability to handle stress, better health, and more positive feelings. Mahatma Gandhi said, “…a living faith will live in the midst of the blackest storm.”
5. Connect with Nature
Most of us believe that taking a walk on a nature path is good for us, but now studies are showing that there are real health benefits, both mental and physical, when we connect with nature. Even five or ten minutes can be beneficial. Being exposed to nature is another immune system booster. Plants give off Phytoncides, and when we breathe in these chemicals, our natural killer cells increase. These killer cells kill tumor and virus infected cells in our bodies. Spending time outside looking at trees and plants, water and birds, lowers blood pressure and also that evil stress hormone cortisol. Surgery patients who have a view of trees and greenery recover faster and better, with shorter postoperative stays and fewer painkillers needed. So head outside, plant some flowers, listen to the lovely sounds of birdsong, and feel the wonderful effects of communing with nature.
Ikigai is an Okinawan term, which roughly translates as “a reason for being”. Okinawa, Japan, is one of Dan Buettner’s “Blue Zones”, and he defines Ikigai as “the intersection between what you love to do, what you’re good at, and what the world needs.” He found Okinawans to be among the world’s longest-living populations and Ikigai, was a contributing factor. To know your purpose in life lets you begin each day with a reason to live. You need to have a reason to get up every morning, and doing what you love, what you’re passionate about, is that reason.
It appears that our minds and bodies are at their most excellent when our lives are stress free and worry free, when we feel happiness and thankfulness. These six practices are a few of the things we can do to achieve that state of being.
“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.” George Burns (who lived to be 100)
Have any of these practices made a difference in your life?