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Build Your Village: A powerful life lesson from a TED talk

It’s always amazed me how, if you ask any parent what they want most for their children they’ll say ‘to be happy’.

Yet despite this so few people actually take the time to study what truly makes for a long and happy life.

We get sucked in to the hedonic treadmill — chasing happiness in all the wrong places…

Credit: Carl Richards

Before we know it we’re accumulating stuff — the big house, the big car or the high flying career.

But inside these things can make us feel hollow.

So after perhaps a few years on the wrong ladder, many of us decide we want to make some positive changes — whether that be pursuing more meaningful work or investing in experiences, not owning more stuff.

Or as we get older and worry about what the future might hold, it can often mean obsessing about our health and wellbeing — whether that’s regularly getting outdoors, eating the right foods or eliminating the vices.

However whilst some of these play a factor in what makes for a long happy life, a TED talk by Susan Pinker provided a great reminder into what really matters.

“When am I going to die & how can I put that day off?”

This is the question asked by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a researcher at Brigham Young University.

She addressed this very question in a series of studies of tens of thousands of middle aged people and the answer might not be what you expect. Susan Pinker explains in her TED talk about this study (see video below):

“Clean air is great but it doesn’t predict how long you’ll live. Whether you’re lean or overweight, you can stop feeling guilty about this, because it’s only in third place. Did anybody know that having a flu vaccine protects you more than doing exercise? In fact the top predictors are two features of your social life.

First, your close relationships. These are the people that you can call on for a loan if you need money suddenly, who will call the doctor if you’re not feeling well or who will take you to the hospital, or who will sit with you if you’re having an existential crisis, if you’re in despair. Those people, that little clutch of people are a strong predictor, if you have them, of how long you’ll live.

And then something that surprised me, something that’s called social integration. This means how much you interact with people as you move through your day. How many people do you talk to? And these mean both your weak and your strong bonds, so not just the people you’re really close to, who mean a lot to you, but, like, do you talk to the guy who every day makes you your coffee? Do you talk to the postman? Do you talk to the woman who walks by your house every day with her dog? Do you play bridge or poker, have a book club? Those interactions are one of the strongest predictors of how long you’ll live.”

So the evidence is clear — a long and happy life comes not from having the right genes, vast wealth or even the healthiest lifestyle, but rather having deep relationships, and regular interactions, with others each day.

People we trust, who have got our back.

People we can confide in, laugh and cry with.

People with whom we can share big talk and small talk.

We know that the happiest people are surrounded by loved ones, where community is part of everyday life. And face-to-face, not online.

So invest in your relationships, starting today.

Your future self will thank you for it.



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Laurence McCahill

Designer, coach, entrepreneur. Co-founder The Happy Startup School.