Chasing happiness

Can lifestyle changes make us happier and live longer?

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When you look up happiness in the dictionary it is defined as a ‘state’ which means that it will have difficulty in remaining constant and to chase it would be foolish.  Many of us are looking for happiness but are not really sure what that is.  For me looking at it in a holistic sense, we need our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of us to be in balance which means it is more about living in a certain way.  Moving away from an unhappy state begins with awareness, then change, realising neither state is constant and then replacing old habits with new ones and living a different lifestyle.

In 2005 Dan Buettner  National Geographic Fellow and New York Times - bestselling author, explorer, educator,  producer, storyteller and public speaker wrote the National Geographic magazine cover story "The Secrets of a Long Life".

He identified five areas of increased longevity or ‘Blue Zones’:

Okinawa (Japan); Sardinia (Italy); Nicoya (Costa Rica); Icaria (Greece) and  among the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California. He offered an explanation, based on data and first hand observations, as to why these particular populations live healthier and longer lives. The term "Blue Zones" was created and is trademarked by Dan Buettner.

The common denominators of all the Blue Zones are moving naturally (walking, gentle exercise), purpose (knowing why you wake up in the mornings), down shift (stress relieving rituals), 80% rule (stop eating when the stomachs is 80% full and eat the smallest meal in the early evening),eating a plant based diet, moderate consumption of wine, belonging (being part of a community), loved ones coming first (strong family connections) and right tribe (strong social connections).

I speak to a lot of people that ‘just don’t feel happy’; unsure of their purpose, feel like a failure, or think they are supposed to have just one true purpose. In the West many goals are financially, materially or success orientated, many people think they have failed but surely it all depends on how you perceive success? Many people are successful making a huge difference to the world without large financial gain therefore it is possible to feel happy and not be defined by how you earn money. The states of happiness and unhappiness come from within and are not constant, rather moments that we move through that have beginnings and endings.

We need our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parts of us to be balanced and nurtured through gentle exercise, having a purpose, getting enough sleep, spending time in nature, meditating, taking a break, eating nutritious foods, avoiding too many stimulants, limiting screen time, understanding our energy, respecting ourselves, self-honouring, spending meaningful time with loved ones, eating together, doing things you enjoy, making strong connections, doing a job you love, building communities and feeling like we belong. When I look at the above, a lot of the things relate to how we lived when I was a child. Let me ask a question – what did we make so important, that we need to save so much time for, resulting in the loss of the cornerstones of human happiness?


Gail Donnan

Interdisciplinary Psychologist, Trauma-informed EMDR Psychotherapist, Director and Practice Lead, The Trauma Centre - Ripon

I have been working in the wellness industry since 1995. I have a Master's Degree in Interdisciplinary Psychology (Leeds), I am a trauma-informed EMDR psychotherapist, Director and Practice Lead of the Trauma Centre, Ripon which is a community interest company.  I am a qualified teacher, assessor and IQA. I am a trained Meditation Teacher, Bach Flower Essence Practitioner, Qi Gong Instructor and Reiki Master Teacher Practitioner.  I specialise in mental health issues arising from trauma, anxiety, depression and am the published author of two books -"The Gateway - A journey to re-claim your power from Stress and Anxiety" and The Gateway Junior Edition - children's mental health. I have a huge interest in somatic psychotherapy and have an interdisciplinary approach to mental health. 


Go to the profile of Lorna Hardy
over 2 years ago

Hi Gail, Thanks for your article on the Blue Zones. I've really been inspired by Dan Buettner's work and bought several copies of the National Geographic magazine to share.  I'm also easing towards eating more fruit and vegetables and appreciating my friends more. I notice you have invested a lot of study into health and spirituality yourself too. And, I wonder, have you explored any further the health-giving practice of prayer and the peace which comes from trusting in God, that the Loma Linda community enjoy? Wishing you a day rich in smiles, Lorna