It’s time for me to push myself toward some changes in my life. I guess that’s what you do as you near your fiftieth year—you start to realize this is real, so make it count.
I’ve been watching the documentary on Netflix about the “Blue Zones,” places that have been deemed the world’s healthiest for several reasons. The obvious habits are apparent, such as eating whole foods and being active, but the show zooms in a little further to make connections between all the locations, which are spread across the globe.
Listening to the elderly people talk about their lives has led me to look at my own life. As I watched, I instinctively felt the need to make some adjustments to steer toward a more vibrant path with deeper roots of contentment.
Every elderly person interviewed revealed that the secret to longevity wasn’t getting everything you want, avoiding stress, or devoting hours to self-care. What matters, simply, is knowing and feeling they matter and have a purpose. They have a reason to get up in the morning and are surrounded by people and rituals that ignite their souls and engage their minds. They don’t look at work as a punishment and instead find contentment in it.
They gather and play and worry less about money and more about filling their lives with joy, even when they have few possessions or conveniences. There is no discussion of work-life balance because they would never allow work to come before family. This means they aren’t wealthy and aren’t climbing any corporate ladders, but none of them seemed interested in ever having that sort of fast-paced life.
They aren’t obsessed with gym memberships or the latest health fads—they simply live active lives of walking, working, and caring for each other, so both their minds and bodies are in shape without scrolling social media for false measurements that tell them what happiness should look like.
Perhaps these people are the last of that generation who grew up on the land with no screens or conveniences, so we can’t reasonably replicate it, especially in more urban areas or even Suburban Ohio. This doesn’t mean I’m willing to throw away all modern conveniences or assume all my decisions are bad, but I want to make some changes in my life to make these next 50 years (if I’m lucky) ones that overwhelm me with emotion and deep reflection with no regrets when I reach the end.
Easier Doesn’t Always Mean Better
I often look to convenience to be the compass in my life, confusing easier with better and relaxation with winning. I often make decisions based on what would help me avoid more stress, but doing this feels like I’m setting myself up for a lower tolerance of life and possibly leading to quicker aging.
I signed up for grocery delivery a year ago to make life “easier.” We have four kids, and both my husband and I work full-time jobs. Having someone deliver groceries to us seemed like a no-brainer to help us get nourishing food on the table every day without having to pace the aisles of a store. What I’ve found, instead, is it has meant yet another hour of me hunched over my computer to order groceries when I could be moving around, pushing a heavy cart, and seeing people—you know, living life. I can’t tell the cashier to have a great day and that I appreciate her through the computer.
As I write this, I went to the grocery store this morning and thought of the people who were in their 100s on the show. One man still rides horses every day. Another chops wood, and they are extremely happy and find the feeling of exhaustion to be wonderful rather than a burden. I can handle going to the dang grocery store without complaining, right? Absolutely.
I used to live in Chicago and never owned a car until I was 31. I rode my bicycle everywhere. That was way harder than owning a car, but to this day, the memories I have of riding my bike through the city are some of the best in my mind. Now that I’m in suburban Ohio and nearly twenty years older with kids to tow, I’ve stepped away from that life. After watching the show, I feel the nudge to pull out my bike, to be reminded of how alive I feel after a long day of zipping around and smelling the sun on my skin.
The allure is to go for the easy, but I need to remember that investing in a harder, more challenging way is ironically what can keep joy and gratitude alive in me. It opens my eyes to the world in a way that isn’t possible when I’m only looking to avoid struggle.
Fewer Screens, More People
Again, this is something that seems obvious, but it’s a good reminder for me that I can easily get absorbed into a screen. I quickly turn to a TV show for relaxation or scroll on social media, but not one person they interviewed turns to a screen to decompress for the day. They turn to each other.
They don’t view a job where you can work remotely from home as a privilege. They would think that’s sad to be holed up in solitude pounding away at a keyboard all day with no real human interaction, yet that is where society is heading—living in our silos, disconnected from community, craving more alone time, so we don’t have to deal with people.
To a lot of us, people can feel like something we tolerate. To the centenarians in the show, people are something to celebrate. They don’t hide behind screens to share their thoughts. They leave their homes to chat with their friends or invite them into their homes daily, basking in the warmth of community, fellowship, and in-person conversation.
My introvert brain tends to crave a good book and a quiet corner, but I’m going to intentionally look for ways to shake off the shell the pandemic put around me and remember to grow my relationships and community better.
Celebrate all Forms of Work
I’ve always been a person who loves to work and can find joy in any task, as long as I’m surrounded by friendly, fun people. I’m reminded of a time when I was working as a hotel housekeeper after I graduated college. I decided to earn money to move to England before I settled into a career. The work I was doing was the physically hardest work of my life that depleted my energy, but it was so much fun because of the people. We folded laundry and danced around to music, not complaining about all we had to do but instead putting our focus on each other and the belly laughs we brought to our work.
The Blue Zones documentary reminded me that hard work is a common thread all the areas shared. They worked hard, but didn’t let work control their lives, and they found a purpose in their work. They didn’t count down the days until they retired but rather kept working because it was fulfilling.
They weren’t comparing salaries or tweaking their resumes and searching for the next big thing. They were simply living and working to provide for that day with very little plan for what the future might look like. I can’t say this feels completely realistic in the society I live in, but what I can adopt is their view of work to dig in and enjoy each day, whether I’m growing my business or tomatoes in the garden.
It all matters, and it all cultivates joy if we let it.
Adults who Play are Happier
Living a long life is not all work and no play. All Blue Zones have deep-rooted cultures, traditions, and celebrations. The adults dance and play music and games with younger people in their lives. Their goal is not to plop down on a couch and zone out to receive passive entertainment. They are on their feet, moving around, and laughing so hard it makes them feel young.
Laughter has always been my love language. I raise my kids with lots of joking around, being silly, and playing. I can see how life would lose its color if I were to ever stop letting laughter be a strong pillar and telling myself I’m too old to play or dance around goofily to Justin Timberlake.
This idea of playing and laughing often contributes to naturally being more active and letting the movement feel like something they enjoy instead of dread like walking on a treadmill.
It’s ironic that I came across this show that is whispering “change” to me when I mindlessly turned on the TV after a long day of work. I’m grateful to have received the wisdom from those who have spent 100+ years accumulating it. They’re the ones who have the clearest vision, so I would be a fool not to pay attention.
What small changes can you make, so when you look back you can say with confidence you have no regrets?