The quest for longer life has fascinated mankind for centuries, from the fountain of youth to Frankenstein to cryogenics and more. In recent years any number of different theories have been floated to the masses, from special diets to supplements, medical procedures and more. Yet somewhere in that fray perhaps the most effective formula for life extension has been pushed to the proverbial back-burner.
In fact, its simplicity as a concept may have been too difficult for many people to accept as a possibility, yet it remains a strongly correlated habit with longer life. This magical secret to longer life is quite simply finding joy or gratitude in life.
A strong example is a section from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers about a small town in Pennsylvania in the 1950’s that had almost every classical health marker for short life spans in America such as poor diet, smoking and so on, yet the life expectancy in this small town was remarkably high.
At the end of the day after years of research and analysis, the only conclusion researchers could surmise was that the people in the town were simply happy, and this factor extended life.
While this is purely anecdotal in many ways, the study of joy and gratitude and its effects on mankind is growing. One such theory has been floated by B.L. Frederickson (1998, 2001), called the “Broaden and Build” theory, stating “positive emotions asserts that people's daily experiences of positive emotions compound over time to build a variety of consequential personal resources.”
In other words, the more positive emotions that are felt over time such as happiness, joy, gratitude and so on compound and build a bank of nostalgia, so to speak. Thus, in many ways you could think of joy, or gratitude and happiness as an investment in the future to be drawn upon, and your celebrations or rumination of those energies as a bank account to be drawn from as required.
It is resonant in many ways of the classic book by Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, which in many ways is a practical demonstration, in the most horrifying of scenarios, of what the power of focusing on positivity and optimistic can produce. He talks in the book about the “ultimate personal freedom,” and in many ways that is the secret to longevity and will always be more productive and effective for us over time than any diet, supplement or pill will be.
Finding joy in an attempt to live longer may seem like a vague or abstract concept, however there are very basic activities that can be used on a daily basis to increase joy in our daily lives.
In a research article in the American Journal of Epidemiology, Strawbridge et al. noted that “Cross-sectional comparisons at follow-up revealed significantly higher community involvement, physical activity, and mental health for those aging successfully.” These types of basic activities can go a long way and can be done even with a very busy schedule.
Simple activities like exercise especially within a group, dancing, singing, creative activities, spending time in nature and other simple activities can be very effective at increasing joy and thus in many ways extending our lives as well.
The old impasse of “age is just a number” ultimately does have merit, and lifestyle and our ability to maintain a joyful and positive mindset is crucial to us maintaining a quality of life that precludes success and long life.
There are other key lifestyle factors such as fitness, diet, and sleep that can be key contributors to a long life as well as the ever-prevalent topic of genetics. Ultimately, our ability to create a lifestyle and mindset that can find joy and gratitude in any situation is a key option in extending our life.