Dan Buettner is a best-selling author on the subject of human longevity. He has been working with National Geographic to identify the population groups that live longest. One of them is comprised of Seventh-Day Adventists, who live on average 10 years longer than the typical American.
Three factors explain why. The first is food: Adventists typically consume a plant-based diet. While they eat some meat, they focus on fruits and vegetables. The second is stress: they take the Sabbath very seriously, typically avoiding work on Saturday. The third is community: they live in a social network that reinforces good behavior.
We now know that one of the best predictors of our health is the health of our closest friends. For instance, if your three best friends are obese, there’s a 150 percent better chance you’ll be overweight. In a country where 84 percent of our health care dollars result from bad food choices, inactivity, and unmanaged stress, Seventh-Day Adventists have much to teach us about healthy living.
Here’s something else we’ve learned about health and happiness: income and life satisfaction are less related than you might think. A survey called the “Better Life Index” is generating headlines today. Developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the report asks people what they most like and most dislike about living in their country. More than four million people in 180 nations have responded.
Surprisingly, people who report the lowest satisfaction with their personal income—those living in Brazil and Mexico—have the highest life satisfaction rates. Low income doesn’t guarantee life satisfaction; residents of the Slovak Republic and Estonia rated both very low. But people living in relational cultures that emphasize community clearly are happier with their lives. A recent Gallup survey noted that people living in Brazil and Panama are the happiest in the world. Now we know why.
What can we do to be more relational? I am encouraged daily by Anne Graham Lotz’s email devotional, “The Joy of My Heart.” Last week, she reflected on John 15:13, where Jesus tells us, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Anne writes: “Our first concern is for our own well-being and having our own needs met, and we love others in proportion to the extent they fulfill those purposes. Our second concern is that others respond positively to our overtures; if they don’t, we refuse to continue to love them.
“But Jesus outlined a radically different kind of love—a love that puts the needs and well-being of others before our own to the extent we would sacrifice our time, our energy, our money, and our thoughts in order to demonstrate it. We are to demonstrate it to others whom we may not like or with whom we may be incompatible or who respond negatively or who may never do anything for us in return! Now that’s radical!”
How radical will you be today?