Why So Blue?
Ever heard of “blue zones?”
Blue zones are a few spots scattered around the globe where people live longer, happier lives than anywhere else. As in much longer. As in much happier.
These are strangely dissimilar places, like Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California.
Researchers from National Geographic studied these far-flung, economically, ethnically, and culturally divergent communities to find out what made them so darn happy and so darn healthy. After several years of compiling and analyzing data on these communities, they finally discovered something that has eluded humankind, well, forever: the secret to a long and happy life.
So what’s the secret, you ask? Superior gene pool? Nope. An environmental advantage like better air quality or a magical water source? Uh-uh. Massive wealth? Not.
The secret to a happy and healthy life, it turns out, isn’t really a secret at all. It’s a lifestyle consisting of several obviously “good” features in the right balance. Broadly speaking, these features include:
• Community: A quiet, highly interactive, walk-able community is critical to health and happiness. That means that a noisy city or a remote mountain home might not be the best place to spend all your time.
• Work: Your work and/or volunteering should be challenging without being too hard. It should also include adequate time off—about 6 weeks is optimal. Long commutes should be avoided. In fact, walking to the office is ideal (there’s that walking thing again).
• Friends: Blue zones are characterized by close networks of lifelong friends—the kind who stick it out during good times and bad.
• Finances: Avoiding debt and having a discipline of saving money is more important that having a lot of money. Having a sense of financial security without obsessing over money is a hallmark of communities with the good kind of “blues.”
• Home: Create a serene space that is designed for quiet activity as well as interaction and communal activity if you want a long happy life, say blue-zone researchers.
• Self: Paying attention to your own evolving values, passions, and abilities is an important part of designing your own blue life. Researchers recommend a reflective approach to selecting hobbies, volunteer opportunities, and work. When it comes to lifestyle, one size does not fit all.
Now, I don’t live in a blue zone and chances are you don’t either. That either means I won’t be as happy or live as long as I could, or that I’d better make my own zone a little bluer! I’m choosing the latter.
By being aware that simple things like taking vacations and cultivating good friendships really do matter, we can start mindfully prioritizing those things. For instance, for years I’ve driven to the local coffee shop every morning for my first cup of joe. After reading about the Blue Zones, though, I started walking the mile there and back. And I also linger a little longer over my coffee in order to chat it up with my neighborhood friends. Simple things, but I’m feeling bluer already.
As musical great Big Bill Broonzy once said, “Blues is a natural fact, is something that a fellow lives. If you don't live it you don't have it.”
Now, I do think he might have been talking about something else.
But I’m taking his advice anyway.