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How to Live Forever (Or at Least a Long, Long Time)

Posted May 01 2013 12:09am

ikaria There is an island in Greece where people forget to die. It’s called Ikaria, and folks there live longer than almost anywhere else in the world. And not just longer, but healthier, and though it can’t be quantified, it seems they’re  happier too.

I read about this magical island in a New York Times article this week. Of course, the million dollar question is: How do they do it?

The article’s author, Dan Buettner, attributes it to a combination of four crucial factors: culture, belonging, purpose, and religion. He writes:

“If you pay careful attention to the way Ikarians have lived their lives, it appears that a dozen subtly powerful, mutually enhancing and pervasive factors are at work. It’s easy to get enough rest if no one else wakes up early and the village goes dead during afternoon naptime. It helps that the cheapest, most accessible foods are also the most healthful — and that your ancestors have spent centuries developing ways to make them taste good.

It’s hard to get through the day in Ikaria without walking up 20 hills. You’re not likely to ever feel the existential pain of not belonging or even the simple stress of arriving late. Your community makes sure you’ll always have something to eat, but peer pressure will get you to contribute something too. You’re going to grow a garden, because that’s what your parents did, and that’s what your neighbors are doing. You’re less likely to be a victim of crime because everyone at once is a busybody and feels as if he’s being watched.

At day’s end, you’ll share a cup of the seasonal herbal tea with your neighbor because that’s what he’s serving. Several glasses of wine may follow the tea, but you’ll drink them in the company of good friends. On Sunday, you’ll attend church, and you’ll fast before Orthodox feast days. Even if you’re antisocial, you’ll never be entirely alone. Your neighbors will cajole you out of your house for the village festival to eat your portion of goat meat.”

Maybe it was the timing and the circumstances of reading this article that made it so very poignant for me – it was shared with me by a longtime, dear friend of mine in New York City, where I was visiting this past week. I was in town to photograph a wedding, and with the exception of the hours I was busy shooting the wedding, my visit was spent entirely with various friends who I have known and loved for years. It was the first time in a long, long time that I felt such a strong sense of community.

The magical, longevity-promoting island of Ikaria reminded that while I may eat well and go to yoga and get some sunshine here in Austin, without a powerful feeling of belonging, without being surrounded by friends (who have truly become my family), a major ingredient for a healthy (and happy) life is absent.

Equally necessary is a sense of purpose. In Okinawa, where people regularly live into their 100s, there is a concept they call ikigai, which means “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.” These past couple months, I have lost my connection to ikigai. I have spent the better part of the last few months sleeping. A lot. Because if I feel I have no reason to wake up in the morning, why wake up?

But my visit to New York splashed some metaphorical cold water on my face. I did wake up – with every photograph I took at that wedding I woke up. I remembered how powerful my drive to document human connection with photos once was, and how much I still enjoy it and feel fed at a soul level by it.

I remembered my purpose, my ikigai, with each beautiful comment I received from you in response to my last post about turning 37 . What a perfect, incredible gift it was to be the unexpected recipient of all that love and appreciation. Like every photo I took, each comment roused my soul and inspired me to remain in this higher vibration, and not fall prey to my shadow.

Buettner concludes toward the end of the article, “As soon as you take culture, belonging, purpose or religion out of the picture, the foundation for long healthy lives collapses.” That’s quite a formula. It can certainly guide us in the right direction of making changes to our lives that support our health and happiness.

So I ask you…how can you improve one or some or all of these areas of your life to create your own version of Ikaria wherever you are, right now?

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