What is the key to a long and happy life? There seems to be no single answer but the evidence does support a number of lifestyle behaviors that can increase lifespan, healthspan and overall quality of life. Here is what Longevity expert Dan Buettner discovered when he traveled around the world in search of what makes people happy.
- Where you live. Where you decide to settle down is one of the most important determinants of how happy you will be. Individuals tend to be happiest in sunny areas and on the water as well as when they reside in neighborhoods that encourage social interactions with sidewalks, parks and community meeting places.
- Saving, not spending, your money. Research shows that financial security rather than buying desired objects leads to long-term happiness; the excitement around purchasing a new item wears off over time, whereas the positive feeling associated with financial security remains.
- Get your zzz’s. According to a University of North Texas study, people with insomnia are 10 times more likely to develop depression and 17 times more likely to have anxiety than people who sleep well. Your morning routine is just as important as getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep. Be sure to eat a balanced breakfast to boost energy and practice 30 minutes of walking or other exercises to promote optimal well being.
- Get off the couch. The happiest people watch less than one hour of television a day, according to a study of 40,000 people who took National Geographic’s True Happiness Test. The reason? Genuine happiness comes from being with family and friends or engaging in a hobby, not from your favorite television show, no matter how entertaining it may be.
- Meet that special someone. Research shows that people in long-term committed relationships live longer with fewer diseases and less stress. Even better, several studies have shown that married people are two times more likely to be happy than non-married people.
- Socialize daily. Studies show that the happiest people get at least six hours a day of interaction with friends or family. In fact, Harvard University researchers found that with each happy friend we add to our social circles, our own happiness grows by 9 percent. For each unhappy friend, our happiness declines by 7 percent. So, become friends with those you like and surround yourself with these people regularly. In this case, the old adage, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”, does not apply.
- Attend a place of worship on a weekly basis. Research shows that people who belong to a faith-based community and attend services more than once a week live as many as seven years longer than people who don’t.
- Become a pet owner. While budget and lifestyle may not be conducive to owning a pet, you may change your mind when you learn that pet owners have lower blood pressure and fewer stress hormones circulating in their blood.
- Create a “happy place” in your home. Make a naturally well-lit room in your house a place where you can read, play an instrument, spend time with family and friends or enjoy a hobby. The natural light will help increase mood-enhancing serotonin levels.
- Be a giver. As the saying goes, “it is better to give than to receive”; this claim can now be supported by several studies which show that givers tend to be happier people. Remember, you don’t have to give a material object – the time is also a gift. For example, sign-up to help out at your child’s school or volunteer at a local senior center.
Of course, these are just some of the many factors that impact an individual’s happiness and longevity.