What We Can Learn From the Happiest and Healthiest People in the World

21 Mar ‘22
5 min
Editorial Board OpenUp
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Living a long and happy life: Julia Roberts triumphs at the end of every film and both Simba and the Little Mermaid lived happily ever after too. But living a long and healthy live isn’t just the stuff of fairytales and rom-coms. There are parts of the world where they’ve got this down to a fine art. Places where people live to an unusually old age or where they are unusually happy. What can we learn from them?


Your habits and lifestyle are what contribute to you living a long and happy life. Here’s what the happiest and healthiest people on earth do.


1. Eat a Mediterranean diet


Let’s start with the obvious. A healthy diet is one of the most important factors when it comes to living a long and healthy life. We don’t need to tell you that fruits, vegetables, pulses, and nuts are good for you. But what we can do is inspire you by telling you about three world cuisines that contribute to a longer lifestyle.


The daily pasta, paella, and pita breads they eat in the Mediterranean keep people healthy on the sunnier side of Europe. In Italy, Spain, France, Israel, and Malta, you can expect to live to be 83 years old.


And San Marino even tops the global life expectancy list at 85 years old. A Mediterranean diet reduces your risk of cardiovascular diseases and increases life expectancy. Lots of vegetables, olive oil and, every now and then, fish contribute to this. As well as moderate dairy, meat, and alcohol consumption.


Also, in Sardinia – one of the five ‘blue zones’, which was dubbed the happiest and healthiest place in the world by writer and traveler Dan Buettner – residents are lucky enough to live long and healthy lives. Here, they eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and beans. And they don’t skimp on the olive oil. Meat is rarely on the menu. But, on the other hand, pecorino, a sheep’s cheese high in omega-3s, is a favorite snack.


2. Stop eating when you are eighty percent full


The practice of ‘hara hachi bun me’ is considered to be one of the secrets to a long and happy life in the Japanese island of Okinawa, also a ‘blue zone’. This is home to the most centenarians in the world.

Before each meal, the inhabitants say the words ‘hara hachi bun me’ to themselves as a reminder that they should only eat until they are eighty percent full. This means that they consume less calories than the average European or American, which keeps them healthy for longer.


3. Make time for moderate exercise


Again, stating the obvious: Exercise is healthy for your body and mind. Exercise boosts your energy, helps you to sleep better at night, and reduces your risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. In addition, people who exercise and play sports have more self-confidence, are less anxious and have a reduced risk of depression.


One of the things the various blue zones have in common is that the population exercises every day. We’re not necessarily talking about CrossFit or running a marathon, but moderate exercise.


In many of the blue zones, walking is popular: In Loma Linda, California, people go speed walking; in Sardinia, many people continue to herd sheep until well into their old age; and in Nicoya, Costa Rica, walking is the most common form of transportation.


Walking doesn’t just keep them physically healthy; it helps them to maintain strong relationships with their neighbors and allows them to enjoy the wholesome outdoors.


Whichever type of exercise you choose, the medical advice is that it is important to do at least 150 minutes of moderate or heavy exercise per week and that twice a week, you should do muscle and bone strengthening activities.


Also interesting: How To Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: 9 Tips


4. Remain sexually active, even in your later years


But sports aren’t they only type of exercise that keep us fit and healthy. That’s something they know all too well in Ikaria, the Greek island named after Icarus; the mythological man who flew too close to the sun, crashed to the ground, and died at a young age.


Ironically, people on Ikaria live to be unusually old: One in three people reach the age of 90. What’s their secret? Eighty percent of men between the ages of 65 and 100 are still sexually active. A distinctly pleasant way to stay happy and healthy.


5. Stir fry, bake or steam your vegetables


In Asia, they understand that boiling vegetables is a waste. Broccoli and cauliflower loose 75 percent of their antioxidants – which can help to prevent cancer – in the boiling water. In many Asian cuisines, vegetables are cooked in soups until they’re tender.


This way, you don’t pour away the nutrients and instead consume it in the soup fluid. Also, Asian people are more likely to steam, stir fry, or bake their vegetables. All of these methods do a better job of preserving the nutrients in vegetables than boiling.


6. Find your ikigai


We see this time and time again in all blue zones: People live longer when they have a meaningful life full of social contact. The most famous term related to living a meaningful life from these zones is the Japanese word ‘ikigai’. But also in Scandinavia, they have a really good understanding of how to live a meaningful life.


The Japanese concept ‘ikigai’ literally means: Reason to live, and it helps Japanese people to live meaningful lives. You find your ikigai at the intersection where what you’re good at meets what the world needs, what you love, and what you can get paid for.


The Japanese follow their ikigai intuitively and all through their lives. In this way, Japanese people keep their bodies and minds active, even after retirement.


7. Embrace the Scandinavian concepts of ‘hygge’, ‘lagom’ and ‘friluftsliv’


You’ve probably already spotted the cute coffee table self-help book ‘How to Hygge’ in a friend’s living room. Hygge is the Danish concept of living a cozy life. It’s conscious comfort that elicits a sense of satisfaction.


Hygge teaches you to derive pleasure and fulfilment from the small, reassuring things in life, such as a fresh cup of filter coffee, cozy knitted socks, a fireplace, and reading a book on a sheepskin throw.


However, in 2017, The Guardian declared the demise of the whole hygge concept, in favor of the Swedish term ‘lagom’: The art of living with just enough. Not too much, not too little, but just enough.


Living according to this concept means letting go of perfectionism and the idea that ‘if I have this or that then my life will be better’. This way, you’ll find more satisfaction in your present situation.


And then there’s the Norwegian term friluftsliv. Literally open-air living or the outdoor life. Sleeping under the stars, hiking, camping, swimming in a lake. This all contributes to a happy state of mind, according to the Norwegians.


If these countries’ rankings on the list of the world’s happiest places to live are anything to go by, then we all better start by buying some woolly socks (Denmark ranks at no. 3), then ‘decluttering’ our homes so that we’re left with just enough (Sweden ranks at no. 6), and rounding it all off with an ice-cold dip in the nearest lake or ocean (Norway comes in at no. 8).


👉 Read more: Small Steps to Start Caring for Your Mental Health Today