That doesn’t sound like much fun.
Keep in mind that this isn’t just Dan Buettner pontificating. This is Dan Buettner having spent seven years with four—and soon five—populations of people who live the longest, and you don’t see marathoners and triathletes among them. You see shepherds and gardeners and people who take simple walks. The life expectancy through most of recorded history was 28, and our bodies aren’t designed for eight decades of pounding. If you want a body that’s usable after 70 or 80, you need to think about that now. Maybe don’t do marathons or triathlons. I was a fanatic athlete. I’ve backed way down. My addiction was biking. Now I do yoga. I walk.
Are you saying that all the endorphin-chasing, adventure-loving people reading this magazine should find something else to do with their free time?
Not at all. Here’s one thing I can tell you for sure—we know this from a big, global values survey: Taking the time to know what your values are and acting out those values are important ingredients in the formula for happiness. And we know that happier people live longer than unhappy people. That’s measurable. If your values include travel and a certain testing of your abilities and limits, you should invest time and money to do that. If that means climbing mountains or biking across continents or kayaking down rivers, by all means, do it. It’s probably worth the wear and tear on your body. But it’s not a universal to tell people that adventure is the key to happiness. Because other people find happiness curling up by a fire and reading a novel.
What led you to the newest Blue Zone?
On the Greek island of Ikaría, more people reach a healthy age 90 than anywhere else on the planet. We’re investigating the benefits of a local larval honey and the island’s radon-rich hot springs.
Do you think you’ll keep seeking out these pockets of hearty humans for the rest of your (hopefully) long life?
I thought I was going to be done with this in 2005, and here it’s four years later and I see no reason to stop. Now I’m going to fold happiness into it. The effect of unhappiness on your body is about as bad for you as a smoking habit. An unhappy person is about three times more likely to die in a given year than a happy person, for a variety of reasons: suicide, chronic stress, illness. If we can extract happiness secrets from the happiest populations, like we did with Blue Zones, we will help people raise their life expectancy.