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Do You Belong?

Do You Belong?

An important driver for a lifestyle of optimism is a sense of purpose. There’s much truth in Nietzche’s “if you know the why, you can live any how.”

Ultimately, what creates purpose is the experience that one is able to make a meaningful contribution to someone else’s life. We are social beings and we need each other to find meaning and fulfillment. There’s a clear relationship between purpose and connection.

Lynne McTaggart, editor of What Doctors Don’t Tell You, writes about a fascinating study in her book The Bond: How to Fix Your Falling-Down World. Public health researchers have long been puzzled by an apparent contradiction. Japan produces the largest number of centenarians in the world. Currently, there are 40,000 Japanese who have celebrated their hundredth birthday. The majority of those centenarians are women, but many of them are men too. Moreover Japan has one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world.

Here’s the strange phenomenon: Virtually all Japanese men smoke—and smoking counts as one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease. So what’s protecting Japanese men?

Two professors of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, wanted to find out. They selected a group of 12,000 Japanese men equally divided over three groups. The men in one group had lived in Japan for all their lives. The second group had migrated to California and the third group to Hawaii.

The two professors found that the level of heart disease among Japanese men increased five times in California and about half of that in Hawaii. But the reason surprised them: It was not the change in diet, from sushi to hamburgers and fries, that predicted the rise of heart disease. The health of the immigrants turned out to be closely related to the kind of society they had created for themselves in their new home country. The most traditional group of Japanese-Americans had a heart-attack rate as low as their fellow Japanese back home, writes McTaggart. Those who adopted the Western lifestyle increased their heart-attack incidence three to five times. If you no longer belong, you fall ill.

“Connection is the best drug in the world—better than diet or exercise,” McTaggart concludes. There’s good and bad news in that conclusion. Taking good care of your health may be as easy as taking good care of your friends and family. At the same time, it’s worrying that a generation of people is growing up for whom “connection” means the Internet. What used to be a family visit has become a Facebook event. Other studies show that there’s a lot of isolation behind today’s dominant world of digital networking.

We need families, friends and neighborhoods, we need to feel part of something bigger, to thrive. We need to belong, not online but in the real world of hugs, handshakes and pats on our backs. That’s where we find our sense of purpose as well. So “Do you belong?” is an important question and the answer is not in the screen you are now looking at.

Read more: Intelligent Optimist, Life, Mental Wellness, Uncategorized, , ,

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Jurriaan Kamp

The Intelligent Optimist is a community centered around a magazine, a website and online events and courses. We focus on the people, passion and possibilities changing our world for the better.


+ add your own
7:13PM PST on Dec 8, 2013


2:02PM PST on Dec 8, 2013

Thank you!

11:57AM PST on Nov 20, 2013

Very interesting and as I know to my cost very true.

11:56AM PST on Nov 20, 2013

So the Luddites were correct after all...

4:01AM PST on Nov 20, 2013

"If you no longer belong, you fall ill."

Is that so hard to understand? Just common sense..............

3:37AM PST on Nov 20, 2013

A sense of belonging is vital. Unfortunately, I believe our present-day American society encourages isolation. Capitalism, in itself, is partly at fault due to the emphasis on competition rather than cooperation. Materialism is worshiped. People are always so busy, lack of trust in others is epidemic. Families go their separate ways, and seniors are discarded.
We need to change our emphasis on what is important.

10:45PM PST on Nov 19, 2013

I need some socializing, but not a lot. A little goes a long way with me and I'm perfectly happy with that.

10:03PM PST on Nov 19, 2013

perhaps the elders in Japan are more valued than they are in the "west"? It's hard to feel a sense of belonging to a community when younger people don't want seniors around. I'm not a senior yet, but I've observed the future around me and it isn't pretty.

8:28PM PST on Nov 19, 2013


6:59PM PST on Nov 19, 2013


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