Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Singapore is the happiest place in Asia" - Dan Buettner shares the secrets to longevity

Grace Yew


Sun, Jul 6, 2014
About Dan Buettner

It's no surprise that Dan Buettner was chosen to give the keynote speech at last month's launch of upcoming waterfront resort Treasure Bay Bintan. Buettner is an established National Geographic journalist and author who’s done extensive research into “blue zones” - places where residents enjoy greater longevity and better health than anyone else on Earth. In short, he’s the perfect pick to promote a health resort like Treasure Bay.

We had the opportunity to attend Buettner’s press conference and get some of his pointers on living a long and healthy lifestyle. He had a lot to say about Singapore in particular!

TheSmartLocal's Interview with Dan Buettner

TSL: What inspired your Blue Zones project?

Dan Buettner: My whole life, I’ve been a writer and explorer, most recently for National Geographic. I’ve always been really interested in solving ancient mysteries. In 2007, I stumbled upon the mystery of Okinawa, Japan - people here were living longer than anywhere else, and I thought, “aha - that’s a good mystery.” There are four other blue zones worldwide - Sardinia in Italy, Loma Linda in California, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Ikaria in Greece.

I approached it almost like an anthropological mystery and it turns out that a lot of people were interested in what I found.

TSL: What are your opinions on the claim that Singapore is one of the happiest cities on Earth?

Dan Buettner: Singapore is the happiest place in Asia, but Asia in general isn’t the happiest place in the world. I’ve written a lot about blue zones and found evidence-based parts of the world where people are happiest. I looked in Denmark, Mexico, even Singapore. The data here indicated that people here self-report higher levels of happiness than anywhere else in the world.

If you look at Gallup poll results, you'll realise Singapore is the happiest place. You guys don't realise how good you have it. Singapore is a place where you can live out your values, where elderly people are taken care of, people feel secure, where there's order and cleanliness - these are fundamental sources of joy for people and you have them here.

TSL: How do you think working in Singapore affects your health?

Dan Buettner: If you’re working more than 45 hours a week, you’re lowering your life expectancy. You’re not any happier, especially in Singapore, where most basic needs are already taken care of. If you’re making 50, 60 thousand dollars a year, you probably make enough money for optimal, moment-to-moment happiness.

Do the math! The healthiest people sleep 8 hours and socialise 6 hours. So you have 10 hours left for eating, physical activity, and working. 7 hours of work should be about right...though your bosses are gonna kill me.

TSL: Any tips on how we can live longer and happier lives?

Dan Buettner: There’s no short-term fix for longevity. You have to do things that last decades or lifetimes. I can't guarantee it, but I can better your odds. If you want to be happier, do these things:
  1. Proactively make 3 happy friends. Happiness is contagious. You don't wanna spend most of your time sitting with the toxic friend that's complaining about work or telling us how hard their life is.
  2. Set up your life so you have 6 hours of social interaction every day, whether it’s with your family or friends.
  3. Spend time on your health  - you can't be happy if you're not healthy. If you're interested in living longer, move to a place where mobility is easy. I can't emphasise how important it is that we are able to walk, not just for the exercise but also the serendipitous social interaction that comes with it. There's something almost genetically healthy about social interaction.
  4. The happiest people in general are sleeping 7.5 to 9 hours a day. If you're always sleeping 6 hours - and I know a lot of you are - you're 30% less happy than you would be if you'd slept the full 8 hours, so don’t cheat yourself.
TSL: What about our diet in Singapore? Do you have any suggestions?

Dan Buettner: You can't necessarily control your impulses but you can decide how you stock your kitchen. I occasionally eat meat and junk food but I don't bring them into my house. Meat, chips, soda, candy - I like them but i don't bring them into my house. Right there, I take 50% of the temptation away.

I would challenge the notion that it’s expensive to eat healthy. The healthiest food on the planet is beans. Everyone can afford beans - I had one of the best lunches of my life recently at Violet Oon’s Kitchen and it was a bean dish. People in blue zones know how to take food like beans, cheap healthy food, and make it taste good. Their kitchens are set up so they can make these foods fast.

TSL: Will your next project still be within the blue zones?

Dan Buettner: I’m really interested in purpose. As we get more busy and disconnected and rely more on social networks, the hunger for meaning in our lives will increase. I’m interested in traditional means of finding purpose, which is the next big anthropological project for me - how people around the world find purpose and what we can learn from them.

At a certain point, all that's left is - why am I here? What can I contribute? What do I leave behind that's meaningful? That's an important motivator in life.

The most critical year is the year you retire, because you’ve lost purpose. This is especially true of policemen and professors, who have the shortest life expectancy after retirement. Also, people with high-status jobs - once that status is gone, it’s hard on people.

TSL: What do you want to do when you’re 100 years old?

Dan Buettner: I wanna be in a really hot dance club! Nah, I like what I do. I’ve never really worked. I like solving mysteries and seeing the solutions being put into people's lives.

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