Living a long and happy life is something that almost everyone aspires to, and it’s safe to say that in 2019 there is no shortage of people who are willing to charge you a fee to tell you how to make that happen.
Super-foods, phone applications, wonder-drugs, and even happiness itself, have all been thrown around as potential solutions to living longer, and when you stand back and take all of this into account, it almost feels like we are listening to a modernised version of the ‘Fountain of Youth’ tales that captivated people centuries ago.
As people age, many begin to let go of some of the more trivial things in their lives, and years of experience often leaves us with the knowledge that it’s the simple things in life that count, and what we really need has always been there in the first place.
And with this in mind, the secret to a longer and happier life may not need to be eaten, downloaded, or injected – it may simply need a little bit of water and lots of sunlight.
Plants and human beings have always shared a connection, as plantlife was both our main source of food and medicine in the earliest stages of mankind. There are numerous examples and studies over recent years that demonstrate the positive effects that plants can have in a person’s life, and the results are both remarkable and fascinating.
Dr. Ellen Langer, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and the first female professor to gain tenure in the Psychology Department at Harvard University, and in her book the Counter Clockwise, she tells a tale about an experiment that was done in the 1970s involving plants and nursing home residents.
In this experiment, two groups of nursing home residents were given plants for their rooms, but one group was asked to care for their plant and make their own decisions on where it should be placed and when it should be watered, while the other group were told that the nursing staff would care for their plants.
A year and a half later, test results showed that the residents who cared for their own plants were more cheerful, alert, and active than the other group, and more than twice as many residents who didn’t care for their plant had actually died when compared to those who were caring for their plants.
The results from the experiment were attributed to the sense of purpose that caring for the plants had given the residents which comes from having the power of choice and ability to make meaningful decisions.
While caring for a plant is not the only way that someone can find a sense of purpose and responsibility, it is definitely one of the most practical and easiest solutions. In fact, plantlife and living longer are so intertwined that researchers have dubbed ‘gardening’ the hobby that helps you live to 100.
Physical exercise and sunlight are the obvious reasons as to why gardening can be so beneficial, but many believe that the sight and smell of lush green vegetation and nutrient-rich soil can also have a calming and humbling effect.
Australian researchers found that men and women in their 60s who gardened on a regular basis had a 36% lower risk of developing dementia than people who classed themselves as non-gardeners, while a study from the US has shown that farmers are less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes than the rest of their population.
Caring for something or someone can have varying degrees of responsibility and involvement, but knowing that there is a person, plant, or animal that is reliant on you for survival instills feelings of importance, purpose, and overall self-worth.
Biologically, the notion that carers actually live longer is said to be derived from the hormone oxytocin, which is a hormone that is released into the brain when a person experiences intimacy and positive emotional involvement.
This hormone, often called the ‘cuddling hormone,’ promotes calmness and relaxation in the brain and works as an anti-stress agent, which can boost immune function and help to fight off illness.
Sadly, in today’s society, it seems that the people who would receive the most benefits from intimate bonds and emotional involvement are actually the people who have these types of relationships the least.
Elderly people are more prone to social isolation than any other age group in Australia, and the issues that stem from this loneliness have extremely negative effects on a person’s physical and mental health.
While nothing will ever replace the warmth and feelings of self-worth that come from meaningful human relationships, anything that has the potential to increase a person’s levels of happiness and health need to be looked at as an option for those in need of care.
Because, even though a simple pot-plant or the act of gardening may not be the first things that spring to mind when talking about longer living and happiness, just remind yourself that some people only stay alive for as long as they have something to live for.