“If you had the opportunity, would you want to live to be 150 years old?” This question was posed by Alex Lightman at the November 2009 Humanity Plus Summit. Based on the way you perceive this question you may or may not be surprised that about 30% of the people raised their hands.
When I first began practicing longevity nutrition ten years ago at my husband’s clinic, I had some fairly negative, preconceived notions of the types of people who would deign to spend a significant amount of money to take advantage of cutting edge science with an outlook towards living longer. To my absolute delight, instead of overflowing egos, I discovered a unique group of illuminated, fulfilled, alive, happy human beings. I believe I can say with certain objectivity that people with a true desire to extend their lives don’t partake in this endeavor for any ego-based reason. They partake in this endeavor because they absolutely love the lives that they have created for themselves.
I recently got together with one of these remarkable people, Kazuo, who periodically makes the long trip from Japan to our clinic to make sure he is growing younger. If there were a contest to identify the happiest people on the planet, Kazuo would be one of the finalists. Sharing a bottle of Perrier Jouet* over sushi I asked Kazuo what he thought the secret was to happiness. Before giving his final answer there was some discussion about theories of happiness. Aside from the usual subject of Bhutan and the National Happiness Index, he mentioned a study performed on money and happiness. First of all, it is important to know that if you ask people if they are happy you will get a certain percentage say yes. If first however, you ask them how much money they make and then ask them if they are happy, the percentage decreases dramatically. Kazuo also pointed out that to be happy, you cannot make your happiness dependent on external events. That if you think your money or your marriage are what make you happy then you give the outside world the power to influence your happiness. Kazuo went on to discuss Nobel Prize Laureate, Daniel Kahneman’s, theory of Focused Illusion. In a great TED talk, Kahneman points out that “We make decisions about the future based, not based on experiences but based on memories of experiences. We can think of our future as anticipated memories”. Our perceptions of how positive or negative a previous outcome was is the basis for our future because it’s the basis of our decisions. My question to you is: are you making your decisions based on avoiding unpleasantness or are you making your decisions based on creating happiness.
“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise” –Tacitus
He goes on to ask, “Why do we put so much weight on memory relative to the weight that we put on experiences?” Kahneman’s assessment of our experiences is not unlike the teachings in Buddhism as well as some new age philosophers like Eckhart Tolle who emphasizes that our mind is not our reality and only creates our perception of reality based on past experiences. Kazuo’s final answer was, “I keep saying thank you. I say thank you to my body, thank you to my food, thank you to God, thank you…” I asked Kazuo what he does when he in particularly difficult times and surely he must be affected like we all are. He replied, “you may experience the emotions that accompany difficult times but these emotions don’t have to determine your happiness. In challenging times, I say thank you even more”
Other cultures view happiness differently. The following is a quote from Tanya Tagaq, an Eskimo Throat Singer, responding to the question regarding her perception of beauty after performing a “lullaby” on NPR’s, The World.
“I’m not trying to sound beautiful. I remember seeing the blood of caribou splattered across the snow, you know and seeing their insides and touching it and feeling the warmth…that beauty is so intense to me and commenting on life…it’s OK to die, it’s OK to have bad things happen. I think everyone tends to chase this eternal happiness or utopia that’s completely non-existent. I just don’t think that’s smart. It’s so beautiful that times of life challenge you”
Working as a longevity nutritionist has truly altered my perception of people’s happiness. Now if I want to know if someone is truly happy, I don’t ask them if they are happy. This question is too subjective. I ask them Alex’s question…If you could live to be 150 years old, would you want to? If they answer “No” then I know that they are not happy. I would estimate that only one out of ten people answer yes to this question.
Here are some tools that I give my patients for achieving happiness:
- Realize that your experience of the world is the perception that your mind creates. Everything is already as it is. Shakespeare said it perfectly, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
- Learn about and spend time in Nature. If you can give yourself the opportunity, find an area that is still wild (un-tampered with my man). Realize that everything you are seeing at this moment started from the beginning of time. Try to understand that your body is made of the same thing as everything you see around you. Ultimately we are all made of the Earth and ultimately everything comes from the death of stars. http://karenkurtak.com/blog/?p=15 If you live in an area where it’s difficult to access Nature read some of the greats: EO Wilson, Darwin, and Thoreau. Watch Planet Earth or start studying astronomy.
- Reduce or eliminate your exposure to the mainstream media. Period. These organizations point their telescope towards anything that they know will increase their viewer numbers. Once they’ve identified their next drama, they use their zoom lens to alter your perception of how pertinent any subject is to your life. “Believing” that you know what is going on in the world through these organizations is like a goldfish in her fishbowl believing that she understands the oceans. Instead, fill this time with simply being or read something more positive like Ode Magazine which comes from the Netherlands. I read this every morning while I exercise or have tea.
- If there are subjects that you notice often spike your interest embark on a deeper understanding of them. For example, if you notice you get emotionally fired up about climate change, read the IPCC reports and make the decision for yourself. If the daily gossip column suits your fancy then learn about the psychology behind these behaviors.
- Remember, there are certainly atrocities but there are also just as many, if not more, good things happening around us. Seek out information about new ways of thinking and new technologies that have the potential to not only solve some of what you perceive as the “world’s problems”, but that will help to make the world more amazing. Check this one out: http://www.ild.org.pe/
- Remember to live. Two of my favorite quotes spontaneously came from friends whom I was sharing time with. “Just because you are on the planet doesn’t mean you are living”
- “Are you living, or are you watching other people live?”
- Practice gratitude. Take a few moments in the morning or evening and simply identify and try to feel gratitude for the various things in your life. Like Kazuo said, if you are having a difficult time or can’t feel gratitude, “Say thank you more.”
*For anti aging discussion, champagne raises blood sugar and HgA1C less than almost any other alcoholic beverageby
In the midst of an expanding vortex of ideas at last weekend’s Humanity Plus conference I retreated to a quiet corner for a couple of minutes to let my mind catch its breath. I found myself sitting across from a 19 year old geek (in the endearing sense of the word) whose body looked like it had led a sedentary life under fluorescent lights. After a day and a half of fascinating lectures on subjects ranging from cutting edge AI to nanotech and living forever, I wondered what peaked the interest of this fellow human from an emerging generation. Expecting another comment about the implications of being able to instantly modify mouse behavior by shining colored beams of light directly into its brain (which is extremely cool), I took pause with his reply. “Myostatin inhibitors” Myostatin is a protein that helps to break down muscles to ensure they don’t become too large. Myostatin inhibitors dumb down its activity allowing muscles to become larger. The pharmaceutical company, Wyeth, has developed and antibody that performs this function but is not yet on the market.
I asked this kid why he felt he needed that. His reply, “So I can have bigger muscles.” Me- “But, you can already to that without myostatin inhibitors.” He- “Yes, but then I would have to work at it.” We continued our conversation as I made a mental note to never hire this person.
As we grow older the gratification that one experiences from taking care of one’s body is indescribable. It must be experienced. I have a hard time believing that the biotech or the cogtech world could ever simulate the mental fortitude or awareness that emerges from physical activity. Gently pushing the body beyond its comfort zone and learning to manage it with breath is to commune with all aspects of existence.
As we face our own physical limitations, our drive and fortitude to expand beyond those limitations grows. This resonates through every aspect of our lives. The superficial gains of exercise, such as reduced risk of disease, increased longevity and youthful bodies, pale in comparison to the depth of character that emerges from it. What precious traits of humanity will be unknowingly sacrificed as we evolve our world to effortlessly achieve more and more of what we consider an ideal?by