There’s much more to healthy and happy living than we’ve been taught. Researchers have concluded that community, purpose, fulfilling oneself mentally and spiritually, along with spending time outdoors and with others, has an overall contributing factor to our happiness. This is the work of the Blue Zone project, a landmark study of unique geographic regions whose individuals lead long, productive, and meaningful lives.
Lifestyle Disorders—A New Age
We are, in fact, now living in an age of lifestyle disorders, diseases specifically linked to our lifestyle (obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.). All of which are symptoms of an artificial way of living: chronically overworked, overwhelmed, overloaded; and infrequently active, well rested, or properly sustained. We are disconnected yet plugged in, discontented yet constantly seeking. In one article posted on the site, Dr. Blackburn compares human beings to caged animals: living in confined spaces, watching “cathode ray tubes,” and moving infrequently about their days. It begs the question: if we continue living this way, what is the long-term outcome? And more so, can we continue living this way?
Nature: Our Prime Giver
By a raise of hands, how many of us spend enough time outdoors taking in fresh, ionic-filled air? You know the feeling: you step out onto your porch for an evening spell, or go for an early morning run. The atmosphere is alive. Even if you live on a street with a few maples. Add to that the sky and sun which further connect us with the stars and earth. This is life-force energy. This is prana.
We are so innately tied to nature that we indelibly suffer without it—often without notice since we’ve acclimated to living within buildings. People in cities may be more adapted to this lifestyle, but they receive the most stressors of all: noise pollution, air pollution, traffic, excessive stimulation, with nary enough reserves to replenish their system.
Nature does the opposite: It re-calibrates us. When we are connected to it we feel its restorative energy. Sadly, we view spending time in nature as a one-off activity: going for a walk, taking a hike, or a bicycle ride at best. In actuality, we’re more suited to being in nature: walking to and from places, playing and working outdoors, living with our houses inviting nature in (think large, open spaces that connect us to the outdoors).
Likewise, when we eat from the earth—as humans were intended, and as the Blue Zones do—we receive live-giving nourishment. Our bodies thrive. We feel more alive. The Blue Zone diet is centered around locally sourced, naturally grown food—also a tale-tell sign of their longer lifespans (upwards to 100 years and longer!). Our bodies operate optimally when given the right foods, and suffer when given processed modern food products.
Social Support: At the Heart of Humanity
In the Blue Zone populations atrophy is rare. People are actively engaged in life. Not only are they are surrounded by nature and eat local food, they also benefit through social support.
A community of emotional support is unlike anything we’ve experienced. When we have a support system we are nourished and protected. We have a tribe we can count on. Humans have always been social—relationships are built into our DNA. Forming connections releases oxytocin, the “empathy” hormone which is a critical factor to bonding and creating trust. A famous study carried out in the 60s (known as the Roseto effect) discovered multi-generational living correlated to health despite lifestyle factors. To sum it up: friendships, family and community are health promoting factors far outweighing their merits. Socially, we are designed to care for one another.
If we created one thing in the world today, community would be the biggest factor towards a healthier society. People would not live at the stress levels we see now. Insularism has arrested society to the extent that we do not know our neighbors. We deeply desire intimacy, yet we live in isolation. We live atop one another, yet we are orphans. This is crippling to our spiritual and emotional wholeness. At the heart of the Blue Zones, family and community triumph as their crowning glory. A movement towards that would change society overnight.
Blue Zones: A Way of the Future
Picture a low-stress life: living at a slower pace, lots of laughter and camaraderie, spending time in nature, enjoying long conversations, with plenty of time to pursue passions and leisure. Imagine simplicity and life enjoyment. Welcome to Blue Zone living. These areas are leading the future with longevity, health, and a happiness quotient unsurpassed by the rest of the world. We, too, can have this. Everything is a choice and we can choose freedom or the caged animal described at the beginning of this post. What would you rather be? And how would you rather be living? Because we are designed for happiness, freedom, and joy.