The death of the world’s oldest man, Yasutaro Koide, made headlines last month when he passed away aged 112 at a hospital in central Japan.
But it wasn’t his crazy diet or exercise regime that allowed him to live such a long life -- albeit he did advise against alcohol and smoking.
Money and success didn’t play a part either.
According to Koide, the key to a long, full life was not working too hard and finding joy in everyday life.
“The best thing to do is avoid overwork and live with joy,” Koide said before dying of heart failure and pneumonia.
Now, without getting all 'love the life you live' on you, to understand Koide’s words it’s worth looking at how exactly we define joy and happiness.
“For the average person, happiness is that momentary blip when something good happens. It’s that sense of ‘this is wonderful’ and your mood instantly lifts,” Vijaya Manicavasagar, director of Psychological Services at Black Dog Institute told The Huffington Post Australia.
However, in the psychological arena, happiness is divided up into two areas -- the state of happiness itself, as well as the more long ranging level of contentment that people have when they are happy within themselves.
“We’ve known for years that winning the lottery -- while glorious at the time -- doesn’t necessarily lead to long term contentment,” Manicavasagar said.
What researchers are now looking at is whether you live your life according to who you are -- not some other person you’re constantly aspiring to be. The first (and trickiest) step in this process is figuring out your values -- essentially what you believe in. These are non-material things like, family, social connections, faith, forgiveness, honesty and integrity.
“Helping people identify their values is an important component of becoming content and happy. Once you decide on what’s important, the behaviours that you exhibit become a manifestation of those values,” Manicavasagar said.
For example, taking a holiday with the family might be an affirmation that work isn’t everything, and family and social relationships are important to you.
“Low levels of dysphoria, discomfort and anxiety are usually because people are doing things that are not in sync with what they actually believe in -- for example, they’re in a corporate job that does not reflect their philanthropic values,” Manicavasagar said.
Which in turn leads to an “if only” mindset.
“A lot of people who are unhappy tend to pin their hopes on external circumstances -- but quite often that’s just a distraction,” Manicavasagar said.
Rather than addressing what it is in their life that is causing discomfort, they look for transient happiness -- a state that does not give you contentment over a long period of time.
Manicavasagar explains the importance of goal setting in the realm of happiness.
“Living with joy is about looking forward to things and feeling what you are doing is true to your nature,” Manicavasagar said.
“You need to set yourself certain things that you want to achieve, not because the achievement itself necessarily brings you happiness, but it brings you closer to living your values,” Manicavasagar said.
For instance, while travelling through Europe is essentially a goal, it also brings you closer to values like curiosity, acquisition of knowledge and experiences of other other cultures.