From Where I Sit

By Pat Spilseth, Columnist

There’s no guarantee that this is a formula for happiness, but it’s safe to say the author Dan Buettner has written a well researched as well as an interesting read when he came out with “The Blue Zones Of Happiness.” A year ago I read his book “The Blue Zones: Lessons For Living Longer,”  and a friend gave me his cookbook “The Blue Zones’ Kitchen.” 

Happiness means different things to different people. For me, I’m happy reading a good book by the fire in a cozy chair or taking a walk in nature. Others may want to go on a safari, sky dive or swim with the dolphins. Others need a party of friends and family. There’s not one idea of what happiness is.

After extensive travel to all parts of the world and researched studies, Buettner believes happiness can come from three Ps: Pleasure, Purpose and Pride. Take a few minutes to think about what gives you pleasure; what’s your purpose to get up in the morning; and what do you take pride in?

Motivated by Buettner’s ideas on what brings pleasure to our lives, Dave and I decided to get outside and explore a new place on this sunny spring morning. We spent the morning walking in the Walker Sculpture Gardens checking out the sculptures positioned on the greening lawn. Many of you have seen the giant, vivid blue rooster towering 25 feet into the air and the renowned Spoon and Cherry, which makes folks think of Minneapolis.

Passing a tall chair with 10 foot spindly legs, it felt like loneliness, which so many are feeling today. Next we came to a flying hare and an empty open coat created out of bronze. We wondered why some pieces were considered art. But they do provoke new thinking on our part. It’s fun to explore different ideas of how people think and what inspires them. New ideas, new people and places stretch our imaginations that are so used to the same routines and thoughts. What a morning of pure pleasure being outdoors enjoying the sculpture garden.

After our stroll through the sculpture gardens we sought an outdoor eating spot. Bakery smells lured us to the almond croissants at Bellacoeur. Their croissants are even better than the treats we savoured in Paris! What a pleasure it was to enjoy flakey croissants and extra strong French coffee at the bakery. With the weather so fine, we found an empty table and chairs on the sidewalk to enjoy our coffee and watch the parade of walkers and dogs enjoying a sunny morning. Several dogs loved the crumbs from our croissants: their licking kisses assured us that we were now best friends! Life was a new adventure today, not our usual routine of coffee, cereal and fruit. It felt like we were in Paris at a tiny bistro. 

Another of Buettner’s ideas in The Blue Zones’ approach to a better life is to Move Naturally. His research found that the world’s longest living people don’t pump iron, join gyms and run marathons. Their environment constantly nudges them to move. They walk; they grow gardens. They move!

These long-lived people have a purpose, a reason to wake up in the morning and get out of bed. They have something to live for beyond just work. Research shows that knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. That purpose could be a project, entertaining with a dinner party, learning a new language, painting a picture or playing a musical instrument. Buettner’s ideas remind me of an eighty year old neighbor who water skis and was learning to play the cello. 

Even in  the Blue Zones  people experience stress, which leads to chronic inflammation and disease. Buettner’s research found that some routines are necessary to shed stress. It’s advisable to get up in the morning and go to bed at the same daily time. That helps your body adjust to a good sleep. Perhaps a quick nap, a coffee break or wine with a friend or meditation could be a routine that would work its wonders for you. Socializing with friends is another requisite. Contact with other people is important for good health.

People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening. They don’t eat any more the rest of the day. Beans provide the cornerstone of most Blue Zone diets. Meat, mostly pork, is eaten only five times a month with a small serving of three to four ounces. Those who drink alcohol moderately and regularly are shown to outlive nondrinkers.  

All but 5 of the 263 centenarians interviewed belong to a faith-based community. Research found the attending services four times a month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.

Families come first  for Blue Zone centenarians. Keep aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home. Committing to a life partner can add 3-4 years of life expectancy. Blue Zone folks invest in their kids with time and love. This investment and pride in their children will more likely make these kids into people who become caretakers.

Social networks of long-lived people favorably shape healthy behaviors. Friends are essential. Hopefully  many of us will keep friendships for a lifetime. I’ve been told that friends will add years your life! 

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