In 2019, I took a break from my busy New York life in search of lucky secrets from around the world.
I’ve toured six different places including Norway, Hawaii, and Japan. I knew health, happiness and longevity were nothing for sale, so I asked more than 100 locals and experts about their attitudes.
What did i find? True wellbeing is far deeper than green juice or expensive nutritional supplements when viewed through a global lens. It’s more about nourishing the soul with the timeless remedies that have always been most important, such as community, fresh air and a change of perspective.
Here are three fascinating health and happiness secrets from some of the longest living people in the world:
1. You spend as much time outside as possible
A friend of mine who grew up in Norway originally introduced me to a philosophy called friluftsliv (which translates as “life in the open air”). Followers of friluftsliv describe it as a feeling – a fundamental longing to spend as much time outside as possible.
Regardless of the fact that there is tons of rain every year in Norway or the sun does not come up for three months in certain parts of the country – the Norwegians, who are among the highest life expectancies, are still committed to the cause of the outdoors. And that’s mostly because they know it improves their mood, mental health, and emotional wellbeing.
People in the US don’t spend enough time outside. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend an average of about 90% of their time indoors, where concentrations of some pollutants are often two to five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.
It’s not exactly good for our health.
In Norway, people are guided by a relaxed approach to the great outdoors known as friluftsliv, which translates as “the free air of life”.
Photo: Annie Daly
You don’t have to go on an epic camping or hiking trip to get the healing benefits of Friluftsliv. Walking to shopping instead of driving is friluftsliv. A picnic in the park instead of eating inside is friluftsliv. Going for a run in the park instead of going to the gym is friluftsliv. Learning in outdoor kindergartens instead of in closed classrooms (yes, there is that in Norway) is friluftsliv.
Many locals even leave their babies outside in their strollers during the lunch break so that they can get used to the outdoor lifestyle early on!
2. You make complicated dishes or drinks
Americans are all about quick and easy meals. Who has time to make something out of so many steps?
But one way to strengthen your focus and practice being present is to forget about yourself by engaging in an occasional complicated activity – not so much for the result, but for the process.
In Japan, where the average life expectancy is 85 years, tea masters do this with tea ceremonies, a choreographic ritual of making and serving tea. During the process, their focus is so deep that they don’t think about anything else.
It is about accepting the Buddhist concept of time, explains Shigenori Nagatomo, professor of philosophy at Temple University.
Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner
Photo: Annie Daly
“Many people often dream and think that there is something better elsewhere than where they are,” he emphasizes. “But there is an ultimate reality unfolding right in front of your eyes all the time – so you want to fully immerse yourself in it.”
It makes sense: if everything is fleeting and time is fleeting, shouldn’t we all pursue moments that are so wonderful, so unique that they forget ourselves and get them out of our own heads?
3. They learn their stories
In the United States, Hawaii ranks first for the state with the highest average life expectancy.
“To live a healthy life in this world, you have to know your story,” said Greg Solatario, a native Hawaiian who lives in the same country he grew up in, on a muggy afternoon.
“I come from this country. My family comes from this country,” he emphasized, pointing to the surrounding tropical rainforest. “And I believe in a deep, deep way that knowing where I’m from helps me stay grounded and connected every day.”
A 50th generation Solatario, Greg is part of the last old family still living in the Halawa Valley, a historic piece of land in Molokai that was settled by Hawaiians as early as 650 AD.
“There’s a Hawaiian expression, nana i ke kumu, which means ‘look at the source’ or ‘look at the teacher,'” he said. “The idea is that your ancestors are your guides. When you know where you are from, you can know yourself better. And knowing yourself, knowing your story, is one of the best ways to get well. “
A beautiful beach in Hawaii
Photo: Annie Daly
So ask your parents or grandparents or older neighbors about their life before you were born. What traditions or tips do you think should be passed on to future generations?
It’s not about understanding your technical lineage through genetic testing – it’s about knowing your story by taking the time to connect with the elders who helped shape your path. The process of hearing and sharing stories gives our lives meaning.
Annie Daly is a New York-based journalist and author of Destination Wellness: Global Secrets for Better Living Where You Are. She has written for several publications including SELF, AFAR, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and Cosmopolitan. Follow her on Twitter @anniemdaly.
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