With the upcoming New Year, most of us will make resolutions that we seldom are able to keep beyond January. Many of those resolutions revolve around changes in diet and exercise. Because if we are more fit and weigh 10 lbs less we will be happier. Health clubs depend on the uptick in memberships in January, but they would not be able to sustain those memberships if everyone that signed up continued to attend on a weekly basis. So what can make us happy beyond January 2018? Dan Buettner, a native Minnesotan and author of “The Blue Zones of Happiness”, has studied cultures around the world that live successfully into old age with the greatest degrees of happiness. Membership in a health club was not on the list of lessons for longer living, but an active lifestyle was. The other lessons included:
- Socialization – face to face communication, not work related and not social media. The happiest people socialize 6-8 hours a day with positive minded people and often use humor in their conversations.
- Financial Security – but more money does not always buy happiness and usually has the opposite effect.
- Buy experiences, not things. A good experience gains luster with time.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables, less meat. Eat less processed food. Share meals with friends, especially friends who laugh.
- Find a purpose in your life – whether that be at work or in volunteer efforts.
- Pursue an inquisitive life by learning and trying new things.
I recently had the opportunity to check a box on my bucket list and unknowingly incorporated all of the above into my 10 day journey. It involved a trip to the tip of South America and an awe inspiring 5 day trek in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. We had the opportunity to sample the local cuisine – grains, vegetables and seafood in plentiful supply. We became acquainted with new friends that were part of our trekking group and shared stories of families and work as well as the events that occurred during our daily travels. Each day was a new adventure and involved learning about the history, flora and fauna of Chile while laughing, fording glacier fed streams and climbing rock fields. I was able to put aside the divisive culture that has become so prevalent in our country as I didn’t have internet access. My time was spent framing pictures for my camera while laughing at the stories from my fellow trekkers. All of this for me invokes true happiness. So it was no surprise when I realized that the National Geographic magazine that I had purchase just before we left was the “Happiness” issue and included many of the above items that I have come to believe can make us all happier if we are only willing to listen.
I believe that a large part of my job as a doctor is to help patients stay healthy thru improved lifestyle and circumstances. As detailed in the National Geographic article, happiness doesn’t come thru reading the latest self help book or making a New Years resolution. The best way to be happy is to not worry about being happy but surround yourself with the right environment and relationships. Pictures can often be more informative than words, so enjoy some of the many pictures that help to explain the above.