Down on the Farm: Forming new habits
The use of the New Year's holiday as a chance to get one's behavior under control by making resolutions just shows how firmly habit holds us in its iron grip.
I wonder how many people will dig through the dumpster at noon New Year's Day for the cigarettes they tossed twelve hours before.
Most people don't even try to break their habits, New Year's Day or otherwise.
I will not be giving up coffee, probably my most entrenched addiction. Can't go a day without it.
Rather than give up my bad habits, I am trying to crowd out bad habits with new, more healthy habits.
In the search for new and better habits, I have been reading the book Blue Zones by Dan Buettner.
Buettner and his team traveled the world studying areas where people live to an unusually old age. He and other scientists tried to discover what the people in these so called "blue zones" do differently.
My favorite: The people in these locations eat nuts. Daily. It is their snack of choice.
This one is easy since I love cashews, almonds, peanuts, macadamia, and sunflower seeds. It will be no problem to keep a bag or two in the pantry.
My second favorite: They get sunshine. Most of the blue zones are in sunny climates and almost all of the 100-year-olds in those areas take advantage of the sun by getting out every day.
So, when it gets gloomy in Northwestern Minnesota, it is probably necessary for one's health to go to Arizona. I can live with that.
Also, the healthiest people drink very hard water. In Costa Rica's blue zone, the locals can get 100 percent of their daily dose of calcium from their water.
Ah, that's music to my ears. I remember how good the water tasted out of Grandma Bergeson's tap in the old house.
Never mind that the tap was encrusted with minerals. Never mind that the sink had to be de-rusted every week. That water was great.
Other healthy habits aren't so easy.
Many of the long-lived societies drink goat's milk rather than cow's milk. It is well-known that goat's milk is easier for humans to digest than cow's milk, but have you ever tried the stuff?
Whoa. If you've ever smelled a goat, then you taste the goat's milk...let's just say the connection is obvious.
Not all of the habits are dietary or climate related. You have to have a good social life, too. That's why Minnesotans don't make the list, I suspect.
In societies where people live a long time, they get together to visit every day. For at least an hour!
In Sardinia, it is a nightly glass of wine at about five o'clock. In Okinawa, they actually have neighborhood groups which gather every evening just to visit.
In rural Costa Rica, older people are honored members of big clans that live together in small quarters.
Socializing, it turns out, is essential to good health and a long life.
Getting together just to gab is a tough one for me. Living in the woods, I could, if I wanted, go days without getting to town. During the winter, sometimes it is easier just to stay put.
And I certainly am not about to get in the car and go to town unless I have some excuse. You at least have to pick up milk.
Another commonality: Purposeful manual labor. Many of the 100-year-olds in the blue zones still cut their own wood. Most garden. Others still walk to the market, sometimes daily.
Yet another huge factor in living to a ripe old age: A daily sense of purpose. People who live to be over 100 in these regions, when interviewed, all knew what their job was every day.
That job didn't have to be difficult. It could merely be cutting some wood, preparing some food, herding the sheep or tending the great-great grandkids. But the 100-year olds had work to do, some contribution to make. They didn't have to wonder why they got out of bed in the morning.
Here is where our culture has some bad habits to overcome. We idealize retirement. We long for idleness and quiet. We store away our older people with other older people. We tend to our nuclear family first and ignore the clan.
These are mistakes.
To live a rich, long life, we need to feel needed by people around us. Right up to the end.