We all want the same things, don’t we? We want to be happy in our lives and jobs. I hope and pray very few of us wake-up and say, “How can I make today worse than yesterday?”  

We want to make a difference, to do great things with our “one wild and precious life,” as the poet Mary Oliver wrote. 

Yet most of us are not happy. We aren’t fulfilled. Fighting on Facebook is almost a national pastime.

Only 21% of U.S. employees are highly engaged at work. This means that at best nearly 80% of our employees are doing the bare minimum at most. Out of that percentage, approximately 17% are actively disengaged. I could offer you a clinical definition but let’s be honest. These are the people stealing office supplies and spreading nasty rumors around the water cooler.

The truth is we are experiencing a crisis of empathy and engagement. In Mean People Suck, I explore what we can do about it. 

It’s about our diet, right?

According to researcher Dan Buettner, only 10% of how long a person lives is dictated by our genetics. The other 90% is dependant upon our lifestyle.

My hunch is you are wondering what diet fad you can implement. However, Buettner learned that only 2% of diets are successful.

In fact, it’s not just about what you eat but the people you surround yourself with and the habits you build. In short, an easy button does not exist for you to live a long, satisfying life.

Living a happy life

Before we dive into the things that cultivate longevity, stop to think about what truly brings you joy. Think about the last time you were praised at work for a job well done, or the “I love you” your child shouted as they left your car at drop off this morning. 

Our bodies have over 35 trillion cells. Every eight years, these cells turn themselves over and with each turnover, some damage occurs and it builds exponentially. According to Buettner, It is why a 65-year-old person ages 125% faster than a 12-year-old. 

It begs the question. What sustains us to live beyond the average life expectancy?

What sustains us

The fact is our general life expectancy is about 90 years. This varies based on where you live and your gender. However, in the United States, the average life expectancy rate is only 78. Buettner thinks we’re leaving at least 12 good years on the table. The years, according to research, could be free of chronic disease, heart issues, and diabetes. 

How to break the mold

Buettner’s research highlights several cultures where 10% of their people live beyond 100 and what values they share. He identified five blue zones whose citizens’ life expectancy averaged above the centurion mark. Here are what they have in common:

Cultivating a life that encourages physical activity

Consider how many times you opt for the elevator versus taking the stairs when it is only 2-3 floors. For many in the “blue zone” group, this isn’t even a question. They take the stairs. Walking is their way of life, not just an option. 

The same is true when they bake a cake. Instead of an automatic mixer, they use their arms to mix the batter. It burns calories just like our diamond pushups do. In short, when these engage in physical activity beyond their daily activities, they do things they enjoy. They do things that encourage movement and stave off cognitive decline.

Take time to disconnect

At a recent conference, an employee told me she’d received a disappointing email during the session she was enjoying. While it didn’t completely ruin her experience, she admitted she was distracted. The truth is she’s not alone. We are so tied into our devices and incoming emails, it’s easy to focus on the latest notification on our phones despite our best intentions.

I told her I’ve turned my email notifications off. As a boss, I think that is the most freeing thing you can tell your employees is that they do not need to be connected 24/7!

For the groups Buettner studied, many of them took hours out of their week to hike or simply to be in nature. Others pray with their community members. The point is, they make time to take care of themselves spiritually.

Nurture friendships

The biggest thing in the groups Buettner studied is they also belong to the right tribe. They were either born into, or surrounded themselves with the right people. Research shows that if your 3 best friends are obese, the likelihood that you will be overweight increases by 50%. 

Buettner continues on to say if the people you spend the most time with value physical activity such as playing hockey, lifting weights, or biking, the more likely you are to join them. It doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy an occasional drink, but they eat right and engage with their community.

No asshole policy

Life is too short to put up with jerks. I have tried to implement a “no asshole” policy for most of my life. But sometimes, we get stuck with a jerk professor, or client, or boss. Or maybe your client works for a jerk. We can’t escape it or control the people our lives crash us into.

So what can we do when mean people just gotta suck?

We all need to find some time to disconnect from our TV, our phones, and texts.

We need to get outside for a few minutes a day.

And we need to hang out with people who make us feel good.

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