More Friends + Less Food = Longer Happier life
In my last column, we touched on the importance of friends for a long happy life. The Okinawans have a social structure in their lives which seems to help them live longer - called
1. a group of lifelong friends
2. a social group that forms in order to provide varying support including social, financial, health and spiritual interests”
Moai are social support groups that start in childhood and last for up to 100 years! They were originally formed to pool the resources of the entire village in order to have funds for public works. Traditionally, groups of about 5 young children were paired together and, at a very young age made a commitment to each other for life. This group became a kind of second family which would meet regularly for both work and play and to provide support to each other as needed.
Dan Buetnner interviewed many Okinawans in their 90s and 100s about the role that their moai had played in their lives.
Gozei Shinzata a lively, active 104 year old described her day:
“In the cool hours of the day she worked in her gardens. At lunch she mixed home made miso into a saucepan of water adding in fresh carrots, radishes, shiitake mushrooms and tofu and let it simmer while she moved up and down the kitchen wiping clean the counter sink and even the windows. When the soup was ready she poured it into a bowl, gazed at it for a few moments, and murmured, “Hara hachi bu”.
This confucian saying, murmured quietly before every meal, reminded her to stop eating when she was 80 percent full. The Okinawans are the only human population that have a self-imposed habit of restricting their daily calories. In the 1300s the book Zazen Yojinki also advised its readers to only eat to two-thirds of their capacity. A Japanese proverb further gets the message home as to why this is a good life time practice:
“Eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man, the other two parts sustain the doctor”. This is a practice most of us could take to heart!
After lunch Gozei would read comic books or watch a baseball game on television and nap.
Neighbours stopped by every afternoon to chat. A couple of days a week her moai - 4 women who, together with Shinzata, had committed to one another for life, stopped by for mugwort tea and conversation. When things had gotten rough in her life, like when she'd run short of cash or when her husband had died 46 years ago, she’d counted on her moai and the Okinawan sense of social obligation - yuimaru - to support her. Her friends had relied on her support in return.
While Okinawans have moais, Sardinians meet with friends each evening for happy hours and Adventists host weekly meals with their congregations . These strong social connections definitely have a positive long term impact on the health and happiness of individuals. What a wonderful practice! We could all try to incorporate some of these ideas into our lives. Invite friends around for homemade soup and a card game for a fun and inexpensive Sunday evening. Or meet with your bikes and go for a ride on the KVR followed by a coffee together. There are so many ways to enrich our lives with others, why not be the first one to make the call? Reach out and ask a colleague or co-worker to do something relaxed with you or the neighbour you have kept meaning to say hello to! What do you have to lose?