The healthiest and oldest people are found in Japan, Hawaii, and Norway. Here are their secrets
In 2019, I took a break from my busy life in New York City in search of secrets to happiness from around the world.
I have traveled to six different places including Norway, Hawaii and Japan. I knew that health, happiness, and longevity isn’t something you can actually buy, so I asked over 100 locals and experts about their perspective.
What did I find? True wellness runs much deeper than green juice or expensive supplements when you look at it through a holistic lens. It’s more about feeding your soul with the timeless remedies that have always mattered the most, like your community, fresh air, and a change of perspective.
Here are three fascinating secrets about the health and happiness of some of the oldest people in the world:
1. They spend as much time as possible outdoors
A friend of mine who grew up in Norway initially introduced me to a philosophy called friluftsliv (which translates to “life in the open air”). Devotees of friluftsliv describe it as a feeling – a basic desire to spend as much time outdoors as possible.
It doesn’t matter whether Norway gets tons of rain every year, or the sun doesn’t even rise for three months in some parts of the country – the Norwegians, who ranked among the highest in terms of life expectancy, are still dedicated to the cause of going out. And that’s largely because they know it will improve their mood, mental health, and emotional well-being.
Americans don’t spend enough time outdoors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend on average about 90% of their time indoors, where concentrations of certain pollutants are often two to five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.
It’s not really good for our health.
To obtain the healing effects of friluftsliv, you don’t need to go camping or epic hikes. Walking to shop instead of driving is friluftsliv. Have a picnic in the park instead of eating inside is friluftsliv. Go for a run in the park instead of going to the eastern gym friluftsliv. Learning in outdoor kindergartens instead of a closed classroom (yes, that’s a thing in Norway) is friluftsliv.
Many locals even leave their babies outside in strollers during naps so they can get used to the outdoor lifestyle from a young age!
2. They prepare complicated dishes or drinks
Americans love quick and easy meals. Who has time to do something with so many steps?
But one way to boost your focus and practice being present is to forget about yourself by occasionally engaging in a complex activity – not so much for the result, but for the process.
In Japan, where the Average life expectancy of 85 years, tea masters do so with tea ceremonies, a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving tea. During the process, their concentration is so deep that they don’t think about anything else.
It’s about embracing the Buddhist concept of time, explains Shigenori Nagatomo, professor of philosophy at Temple University.
“A lot of people dream often, thinking that there is something better somewhere else than where they are,” he says. “But there is an ultimate reality unfolding before your eyes, all the time – so you want to fully engage in it.”
It makes sense: if everything is impermanent and time is fleeting, shouldn’t we all be chasing moments that are so wonderful, so unique, that they make us forget ourselves and pop out of our own heads?
3. They learn their stories
“To live a healthy life in this world you have to know your story,” Greg Solatario, a native of Hawaii who lives on the same land where he grew up, told me on a muggy afternoon.
“I come from this land. My family comes from this land, “he pointed out, pointing to the surrounding rainforest.” And I deeply believe that knowing where I’m from helps me stay grounded and connected every day. “
As a 50th generation Solatario, Greg is part of the last ancient family still living in the Halawa Valley, a historic piece of land in Molokai, where Hawaiians settled as early as AD 650.
“There is a Hawaiian phrase, babe i ke kumu, which means ‘look at the source’ or ‘look at the teacher’, “he said.” The idea is that your ancestors are your guides. When you know where you are from, you are better able to know yourself. And knowing yourself, knowing your history, is one of the best ways to be well. “
So ask your parents, grandparents or older neighbors what they went through before you were born. What traditions or tips do they think should be passed on to future generations?
It’s not about understanding your technical ancestral lineage through genetic testing – it’s about knowing your history by taking the time to connect with the Elders who have helped shape your path. The process of listening and sharing stories gives meaning to our lives.
Annie daly is a New York journalist and author of “Destination Wellness: Global Secrets for a Better Life Wherever You Are.” She has written for several publications including SELF, AFAR, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and Cosmopolitan. Follow her on Twitter @anniemdaly.