But maybe these habits of Nonaka’s were healthful simply because they brought him pleasure. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, a fascinating research project of 700 American men which began in 1938, suggests that the best thing you can do to prolong your life is to quit smoking. But the variable which will most enrich your days?
Strong relationships – which in turn, somehow, protect against chronic disease, mental illness and mental decline. «The people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships with family, with friends and with community,» said Dr Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of the study and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Notice that word «community»?
It’s telling that in talking about the value of relationships, Waldinger wanted to make clear he wasn’t just talking about blood relatives or even friends, but instead everyone who surrounds us. Which brings me to the world’s youngest people: babies.
I’ve been travelling with one for a few months now, to the US, Australia and through Japan. And what I’ve found most striking is that responses to babies vary by age. Specifically, the older you get, the more you seem to appreciate them.
I’ve received the most rapturous responses to the very existence of a baby from the elderly, who stop to delight in his tiny feet, or to coax out a smile from the stroller’s depths. They ask how old he is, how he is sleeping, and then share stories about their own grandchildren or even great-grandchildren. By contrast, many middle-aged people seem to regard the presence of babies in public as a profound inconvenience. And when babies have the audacity to act like babies? Cue the eye roll as they glance up from scrolling on their smartphone.
Sure, the elderly might have more time than your average 40-year-old, who probably has their own childcare woes to deal with, but I wonder if they also know something the rest of us don’t. Perhaps, through the years, you gain a heartfelt and sincere appreciation of life’s little miracles, and a conviction that they’re worth slowing down for, no matter how busy the day.