Why We Need To Wave To Our Bus Drivers, Neighbours (& Everyone Else)
We're frequently told to find our "calling" if we want a meaningful life. But the true keys to happiness are far easier to obtain...
We're often told that the path to happiness lies in finding our calling, leaving our "mediocre existences" behind and chucking everything in to follow our passion (if we're lucky enough to find it).
The thing is, for many of us, these kinds of lofty ideas just don't figure in reality.
Even if we get the opportunity to even think about things like this, things like mortgages, bills and mouths to feed soon eclipse such frivolous thinking.
Yes, despite this, we find happiness anyway.
The "Blue Zones"
As anyone who has been back-packing will tell you, there are parts of the world where there are people, who are not "successful" in the conventional sense, who appear to lead incredibly happy lives.
"Deprived" communities, with perhaps only one TV between the lot of them (as that's how we measure deprivation, after all), will have far wider smiles on their faces than you'll see anywhere else in the world.
Deep-down, we all know why, but research into The Blue Zones literally spells it out for those of us who are still not so sure.
The Blue Zones are five parts of the world (in Greece, Italy, Japan, Costa Rica and California), identified by U.S. author Dan Buettner as hot-spots for consistently producing people with the highest life expectancy.
In exactly zero of cases, is productivity, wealth or hustling the cause of their long lives.
What is invariably the cause (apart from diet and exercise) is relationships.
They live in small towns or villages, they put their families first, they belong to faith-based communities, they eat and drink together, and their interpretation of purpose can equally mean spending time with those they love as it can be "pursuing passions".
They're happier, they live longer and they have significantly lower rates of heart disease and dementia.
Relationships are not just the glue that keeps these communities together; they are literally saving their lives, too.
The Real "Secret"
In her TED talk, below, psychologist and author of The Village Effect, Susan Pinker, flags up the research of psychologist and researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, who found that the the biggest single predictor of a long life has nothing to do with diet, exercise, finding the ideal job - or even, quitting smoking.
And it has nothing to do with close relationships either (that was the 2nd biggest predictor).
What is the biggest predictor is how much we interact with people in general, during a given day.
And that means anyone: the barista as we grab our morning coffee, the postman as they drop off the mail, the bus driver as they pass by; the neighbour as they're out walking their dog.
It's what is known as social integration - it's all the small moments of interaction we might not even pay much attention to during the day, but which is literally saving our lives.
So how does this actually work?
The Science Of Making Ourselves Happier
Each face-to-face interaction releases "a whole cascade of neurotransmitters" that protect us now - and well into the future - says Pinker:
"Simply making eye contact with somebody, shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust and it lowers your cortisol levels.
"So it lowers your stress. And dopamine is generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain. It's like a naturally produced morphine."
Try it. Wave to the bus driver, smile at the postman, ask the barista how their day is going.
You'll find that your day suddenly feels that much more enjoyable.
You'll feel invigorated - grateful, even that you live where you do.
And there's no hustling required.