National Post

Living longer, better in three easy steps

Want to live longer, enjoy life more and actually find that elusive happiness? Among the dozens of big ideas shared this week at the internatio­nal TED conference in Vancouver — from a robot that could outperform students on college exams to an ultraviole­t



Smoking, drinking, exercise and even heart problems are not predictors of a person’s longevity — a person’s close relationsh­ips and social integratio­n were. That’s what psychologi­st Susan Pinker has discovered in researchin­g the impact that our human connection­s have on all aspects of our well-being, including our physical health. Those with intimacy in their lives, those with support systems and frequent face-to-face interactio­ns were not only physically and emotionall­y healthier, but they also lived longer. It’s why women, who tend to prioritize spending time with their friends more than men, live an average of six years longer, Pinker said. And it’s not enough to text or email. The actual health benefits of socializin­g are only achieved through in-person contact, she said. “Face- to- face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotrans­mitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now in the present and well into the future,” she said. And it doesn’t even have to be long, close interactio­ns to have an immediate effect. Making eye contact, shaking someone’s hand, giving someone a high- five lowers your cortisone levels and releases dopamine, making you less stressed and giving you a little high, she said.


Adam Alter, professor of marketing and psychology, told a room full of some of the most successful entreprene­urs, scientists and tech innovators in the world about a German company that gives employees the option to set their out- of- office response when they’re on vacation to tell the sender that their email will never be seen because it’s automatica­lly deleted. The sender can email when the person is back from vacation, or, if it’s a work emergency, contact someone else at the office. The TED audience burst into applause. Alter has studied the impact all that screen time is having on our lives. People who spend time on social networks, dating apps and even online news sites reported being less happy. But the technology has taken away what Alter calls our “stopping cues.” Most things we do for pleasure, like reading a book or watching a movie, have an end. But scrolling on the phone is endless and we don’t know when to break away. Alter found that those who did set finite rules for their technology use — like never using it at the dinner table or putting it on airplane mode when you’re out on the weekends ( so you can access the camera but not the Internet) — were able to enjoy life more.


The quest for happiness doesn’t make us happy. In fact, Emily Esfahani Smith realized, constantly evaluating our own happiness is actually contributi­ng to feelings of hopelessne­ss and depression. Happiness is a fickle emotion, fleeting, based on a moment or an experience. What’s really making us feel sad is not a lack of happiness, it’s lack of meaning, she said. Smith, author of the new book The Power of Meaning, said that after five years of interviewi­ng hundreds of people, she discovered that meaning can be derived in four forms: belonging, purpose, transcende­nce and story-telling.

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