Several speakers at this year’s The Up Experience spoke to recipes for happiness and long life. It’s reassuring that, contrary to Kipling, sometimes the East and the West do meet. Especially when it comes to common concerns. One Chinese maxim states, “Happiness, long life, and health, are the common desire of most men.”
Here are selected notes on Sleep, Blue Zones, and Happiness.
Maas on Sleep
James Maas of Cornell is award-winning professor, lecturer, author, and sleep researcher. Maas states, “Sleep is a vital part of both waking success and longer life.” Maas adds, “The brain is highly active at night forming new neural networks based on the day’s activities and experiences.” Sleep is “the symphony of the night.”
Yet most of us are chronically sleep-deprived. Adults need 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep a night for optimum health. Adolescents need even more: 9.25 hours. After the 7 hour mark is when motor responses for physical activities such as work, sports, and dance are networked in by the brain. Research shows a 20-40% improvement in physical motor learning when subjects gain enough sleep.
But typical schedules don’t allow optimum sleep for adults or adolescents. Adolescent ideal sleep times are 3am – 11am. No wonder they stay up so late at night and fall asleep in class. Adults lose sleep by drinking coffee anytime after 2pm, or liquor any later than within 3 hours of bedtime.
The good news – naps DO help.
Buettner on Blue Zones
Dan Buettner is explorer, Guinness World Record holder, and best-selling author. Buettner states, “90% of longevity comes from lifestyle and environment, and only 10% from your genes.” Human beings are actually programmed for procreative success, not only to be parents, but to be grandparents. Our innate capacity for long life is about 90 years, but our actual expectancy is 78 years of age. This means we are leaving 12 years on the table, on the average, when most of us die.
Blue Zones are areas of the world where long life and health are demonstrably higher then the rest of the planet, and are to be found in all continents, including American, African, European, and Asian. With a National Geographic film team, Buettner visited and interviewed the people living in Blue Zones to identify factors for long life. Buettner listed four major categories.
1. Physical Activity
Move naturally (e.g., lifestyle with activity built in rather than artificially added)
2. Right Outlook
Downshift (e.g., calmness)
Purpose (e.g., clarity on goals)
3. Eat Wisely
“Wine @ 5” (e.g., social happy hours)
“Plant Slant” (lean toward plant-based foods)
“80% Rule” (push away from the table when you feel 80% full; your body will soon catch up and you’ll realize you’re full)
Loved Ones First (prioritize social time with them)
Belong (participate and feel authentically part of a community)
Right Tribe (be sure the communities you select are in line with your interests, feelings, goals)
Achor on Happiness
Shawn Achor, formerly of Harvard and now owner of Good Think Inc, is award-winning teacher, speaker, author, and positive psychology researcher. Achor states, “90% of happiness comes from your brain, not your circumstances.” Achor adds, “Brains work better when in a positive state. Understand that happiness precedes success, not the other way around. The trick is to learn to manage yourself to be positive in the middle of challenge.”
So why don’t more people follow this common sense recipe? Achor concludes, “common sense is not always the same as common action.” So take note – the research results are in: happiness comes from the belief that we CAN change things. This is the rationale of optimism, to stay positive in the present. [Side note: one of my favorite maxims is, “The pessimists are right, but the optimists live longer.”]