Compassion. Gratitude. Conscientiousness. Being humble. A little stress to keep you energized and motivated. Using common sense. Hanging out with the people that are doing healthy things. Having a stable relationship.
You might think the secret to a long and happy life was hidden in a book or could be found by following that famous media guru, Oprah. The truth is, a long life and happiness are not obtained by doing extraordinary things or looking for that magical “dream job” (or dream spouse, for that matter).
Research has shown — most recently by psychologists Friedman and Martin in The Longevity Project (2010) — that getting to a long life is really just a combination of simple, everyday things and an approach to life that some might say emphasizes a sense of resiliency and openmindedness toward our fellow human beings.
You don’t need even read a long book to understand the basic building blocks of a good, happy and long life. Five minutes of your time and this article will do just nicely.
Previous research has shown that people who are grateful are people who are happy. Happiness comes from being grateful and humble about whatever it is you do in life. Whether you’re a student in college or university, a short-order cook, a stay-at-home parent, or a salesperson, gratitude is simply appreciating all of the wonderful things you already have in your life (even if you think you want more). Even a homeless person has something to be grateful (although it may be harder to appreciate) — for instance, the fact that they are still alive or have built up a sense of self-reliance and perseverance.
Find something to be grateful for each and every day of your life. Start a “gratitude journal” and keep track of what you have to be grateful for. You can write down big things or small things, such as just enjoying the warmth of the sunlight on your face. It will help you reflect and encourage a sense of gratefulness in your own life.
2. Some stress is good.
Some stress keeps us motivated and a little “hungry” for more out of our lives. People who live longer stay motivated and are always looking forward to their next accomplishment. A little stress motivates and keeps us focused.
Too much stress causes health and mental health problems. Not enough stress leads to feelings of boredom and sometimes, meaninglessness. Cultivate finding the right balance of stress in your life to keep you interested, but not feeling overwhelmed.
3. Be more conscientious, dependable and compassionate.
People who are more conscientious live longer, fuller lives. It stands to reason, because focusing on yourself and your own needs all the time makes for a very stressed-out, selfish individual. Such a person usually won’t cultivate (or even be aware of) the mutual relationships, opportunities and social sharing that looking out for your fellow human being can. “Here, let me help you with that,” means that the next time you need help, someone may be there to lend you a hand.
If a person learns they can depend upon you, it makes you more invaluable in that person’s life. We know who we can depend on in our lives and turn to them when we need help. Not only do others value dependability, one side benefit of being so is the feeling of being appreciated and bolstering our own self-esteem.
4. Use common sense.
Common sense is sometimes undervalued in our society. Common sense is severely lacking, for instance, when people try and text while driving — leading to untold number of accidents and even fatalities each year. If you want to increase your longevity in this world, put common sense and self-control to work as much as possible. Ask yourself this simple question, “Does it make sense for me to do or say this, right here, right now? Or should I wait until later, until I’ve given it more thought, or can devote my full attention to it?”
5. Hang with the right crowd.
Drug users often have a hard time breaking the habit, not just because of the drug itself, but because of the friends and environment associated with doing the drug. The actor Christian Bale portrayed this beautifully in the character he played in the move, “The Figher.” It’s not just the drug that pulls you in — it’s the old patterns and habits of hanging out with a bunch of people who have that shared drug history.
If you want to live a healthier, longer and happier life, the friends you choose are a big part of it. Join groups of people who are doing the kinds of things you’d like to do, whether it be playing golf, enjoying a hobby or outdoor activity, or playing chess. Hang out with the people who are also enjoying life in a positive and joyful manner. You’ll find that doing so “rubs off” a bit on you, and increases your own happiness levels.
6. Enjoy more experiences, not things.
Research has shown that, time and time again, money doesn’t really buy you happiness (even though most of us thinks it does). What you should put your money toward — rather than buying more stuff — are experiences or charity. Research has shown that we tend to have fonder, happier memories of times we spent with someone doing something fun (like going on a trip), than if we had bought ourselves a new flat screen TV. And when we give money to charity, it also makes us feel better about ourselves and our lives.
You don’t have to be rich to enjoy an experience or to give a little to your favorite charity. A trip to the local state park, the beach or the mountains is virtually free and all it takes. A donation of $5 will generally make you feel the same as a donation of $50 (you don’t feel 10 times better giving $50 than $5) — it’s the act of giving that seems to matter most.
Like I said, you don’t need a book to understand these few basic things, all of which are backed up by psychological research studies. All you need is the willingness to incorporate more of them into your life. (But if you do want a book, check out The Longevity Project — it’s an interesting read.)