To Live a Long, Meaningful Life, Aim for This Little Achievement Every Day
A lesson from ‘the island where people forget to die’.
People on Ikaria Island reach higher age than people in the rest of the world and maintain good health even after becoming centenarians. Due to this fact, Ikaria earned its place in the Blue Zones, a list of 5 worldwide regions where citizens live the longest.
Scientists discovered that people in Ikaria are almost entirely free of dementia and have low rates of cancer, heart disease, and depression. On average, they live about 10 years longer than the rest of the Europeans.
A good physical condition from manual work, daily walks, midday naps, and a healthy Mediterranean diet are factors that are adding to their health and longevity.
But these aspects aren’t atypical for the rest of Greece. So what else helps these people to live such long and happy lives?
The answer is quite simple.
They contribute to the community around them every day.
The Ikaria’s secret to a long and meaningful life
Anthropologists found out that people living on Ikaria Island are very close to each other, always making an effort to connect with their families and neighbors.
Regardless of their age, all Ikaria inhabitants are integrated into the community and provide value for each other. They meet any time of the day to play domino games or sip their strong red wine, ignoring clocks and rush for material things.
Beyond the healthy diet and lifestyle, Ikarians became well-known for their hospitality. They always share with others even if they don’t have much themselves.
In a BBC story about Ikaria, one of the citizens explains: “… when you do things that make you happy or others happy, how can you not feel healthy, feel better or feel good?”
Another Ikarian, a 105-year old woman who still creates and sells clothing and bags, remarks, “Do something in your life that stirs your passion.”
Instead of consumption, these people create and contribute to the world around them. That’s what makes their lives so worthwhile.
The science behind being a good person
There is plenty of scientific evidence proving the positive effects of kindness on our health and wellbeing.
Grandparents providing childcare have 37% lower mortality hazards than those who don’t provide childcare or don’t have any grandchildren.
A study published in Psychological Science Journal found that “older people who are helpful to others reduce their risk of dying by nearly 60 percent compared to peers who provide neither practical help nor emotional support.”
Psychologist Stephanie Brown, the author of this study, adds, “These findings suggest that it isn’t what we get from relationships that makes contact with others so beneficial; it’s what we give.”
These studies suggest that people are somehow motivated to live longer when their lives are filled with purpose.
On top of that, being a good person have many other health benefits.
This study revealed that people who spend their time volunteering have lower levels of depression, better cognitive health, and higher life satisfaction.
It seems like our biology is naturally wired to compassion and generosity.
Why being kind is hard for us
Over the past decade, we became obsessed with self-improvement advice and the philosophy of saying no to everything that doesn’t align with our goals.
The modern way of living implies that doing something for nothing in return is a waste of time.
Why would you talk to a senior who feels alone when you can go home and work on your side-hustle — and get paid for it? Why would you spend money on people you don’t know when you can buy yourself a new personal development course?
In this society, life is too short, and time is too precious for contributions that don’t bring us benefits straight away.
The importance of your contribution to the world around
People from Ikaria constantly contribute to a better life on the island, even with the smallest gestures.
They make clothes and wine and sell them on the local market. They bake a pie and share it with their neighbors. They meet in the afternoon for a drink to celebrate life and the present moment. They find time and attention for each other, every single day.
You can do the same.
Contribution to the world makes you feel useful; it creates in you a sense of belonging.
Once you implement the habit of kindness into your daily life, you know your neighbor will be sad if you don’t come for coffee and chat tomorrow. You know you’ll be missed at church next Sunday if you don’t show up. You know the seniors at the nursing home will be disappointed if you don’t come for Friday bingo.
All these little things make life worth living. You know that you are making people’s lives better, and you’ll be missed if you stop doing it.
How will you contribute today?
Now when you know being a helpful and kind person improves your health and longevity, what are you going to do about it?
It doesn’t have to be something big. You don’t need to volunteer 15 hours a week besides your full-time job. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars every month on charities.
Scott Adams once wrote,
“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”
So start your journey with something simple.
Offer your seat to someone on a crowded subway or bus. Donate blood. Post a sticky note with a positive message on your colleague’s desk. Write a great review of your favorite local shop.
Pay the toll for the car behind you. Spend free Saturday at the local shelter taking the dogs for a walk. Take a bag with you on a walk and pick up the trash on your way home.
If you do things from pure passion and without expectations, every small deed counts.
This post was originally published in the publication Curious on Medium.