Do you lead a stressful life and suffer from chronic GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)? Several studies have confirmed that stress can cause acid reflux symptoms and even make them worse. (Click here to read my article about the link between stress and reflux). Staying happy and de-stressing may be two of the keys to curing GERD.
Dan Buettner, in his new book, The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World’s Happiest People, includes principles for de-stressing. If you haven’t read the book yet, I highly recommend it. Dan Buettner is a journalist associated with National Geographic and has a solid reputation for producing fascinating, well-researched books and articles.
Buettner writes about many different principles, but seven of them really stood out to me. Buettner describes the happiest places in the world, Costa Rica, Denmark, and Singapore. These countries share many of these principles.
Let’s explore how the happiest people in the world live.
1. Community-centered Living
The world’s happiest people constantly surround themselves with their communities. They value friendships and prioritize them above independence. This is quite different from the West where people tend to value “alone time” more.
Costa Ricans are known for their happy, social culture. Family, friends, and neighbors come together regularly to spend time with each other. Regular community activities include soccer, music, barbeques, and potlucks.
Costa Rican women regularly get together and have what they call martesitos (little Mondays), miercolitos (little Tuesdays), or juevecitos (little Wednesdays). for gossiping, bonding, laughing, and sharing stories with one another.
Next, Costa Ricans traditionally set aside the weekend for family meals. The entire extended family attends, everyone from grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces to close family friends and in-laws.
Costa Ricans even have a ritual of eating together with their coworkers. All vendors at the famous Cartago market in Costa Rica close their shops at noon and meet at a local seafood restaurant to eat lunch together. Conversations around the lunch table include topics like soccer, sports, news, family, and humor.
If you come from a Western background like me, replicating this lifestyle might take some adjustment, but in the end, it can lead to a happier and healthier life. Studies have shown that people who don’t connect with a community have a 50 percent greater chance of dying at a younger age. (1)
2. Run with People Who Share Your Passion
In Denmark, most Danish adults are part of a club. Danish clubs are government-subsidized and cover a wide range of interests, including swimming, ping pong, knitting, model train building, and even competitive rabbit jumping. These clubs give Danish people an outlet to express their passions and experience a sense of belonging to a community.
Singaporeans, the final happiest people group Buettner talks about in his book, also band together with like-minded people—their parents. Like most Asian cultures, Singaporeans have a culture of honoring the elderly. Elderly parents typically live with their children until they die.
According to Buettner, every human being longs to be taken care of and to take care of those who are like them. Fulfilling this need can lead to greater happiness. And, according to studies, it can lead to a reduction in GERD symptoms.
3. Practice Faith
Among the Costa Ricans, Buettner found that religion plays a significant role in happiness. Most Costa Ricans are Roman Catholic and say their faith in God helps keep them happy because they feel they have a sense of purpose in life. And when they suffer hardships, having a God to turn to strengthens them.
Do you have a religion you practice? If not, you may want to visit a couple of faith-based communities and see if any work for you. Not only can religion help you feel happier, but recent studies have shown that it plays a significant role in relieving stress and staying healthy (See my article on the Adventist centenarians here). (2) (3) (4)
4. Eat at Least Six Servings of Fruits and Vegetables a Day
Research shows that eating a lot of fruits and vegetables can make you healthier and, in general, feel better. (5) Traditionally, the Costa Rican diet includes fruits and vegetables like squash, plantains, bananas, papayas, yams, and peach palms. The famous Cartago market in Costa Rica, has a variety of fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables in stock year-round.
Fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity and even cancer.
Try upping your intake of fruits and vegetables gradually until you reach six servings; that’s three servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables. (You can read my article about the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet (5).)
Alternatively, if you don’t like the taste of fruits and vegetables, try throwing them all in a smoothie. I blend together an apple, a pear, several bananas along with a carrot, a beet, and kale with 1¼ cups of water and five ice cubes for my morning smoothie. If you add enough ripe bananas and frozen berries, your smoothie will taste like candy!
5. Live an Active Lifestyle
The happiest and healthiest people in the world live an active lifestyle. They’re not lifting weights at the gym or competing in marathons, but they’re active in menial, day-to-day tasks like walking to the grocery store and hanging out with friends.
In Denmark, the preferred mode of travel is by bicycle. More than 90 percent of adults younger than 30 ride their bikes to get around town. This may be another reason why Danish people have lower levels of stress and higher levels of happiness—habitual exercise.
6. Be More Trusting
Another common factor Buettner discovered in the three happiest places in the world is trust. Generally, people in Costa Rica, Denmark, and Singapore, seem to be more trusting of others.
In Costa Rica, Cartago market vendors have a common saying they live by: “Trust with your eyes closed.” Vendors leave their money and supplies unlocked and, apparently, none of them steal each other’s customers, either. (5)
With one of the lowest corruption rates in the world, Denmark also ranks as one of the most trustworthy places in the world. Denmark citizens tend to trust their politicians and government to do the right thing and take care of them.
In Singapore, citizens tend to trust their government as well. One of the reasons for this is that Singapore law is very strict on crime. Spitting in a public place can get you a $1000 fine, and drug trafficking can get you executed.
Singapore’s laws may sound extreme and scary, but they are a big reason why citizens trust their government. When someone breaks the law, justice is heavy and swift.
So, is it trusting people that make you happier, or is it just that happier people tend to trust others more? Perhaps, both are true.
7. Seek Meaning in Your Life, not Status
The last tip on how to de-stress and be happier is to avoid pursuing status. If you live in the West, this can be especially hard to do, given that our media is constantly spurring us to buy things that bolster our status all the time.
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to live a comfortable life, constantly comparing yourself to others is unhealthy. This kind of mentality can stress you out, drain away your happiness, and exacerbate your GERD symptoms.
Take Denmark again, for instance. Rather than spending money on fancy furniture and designer clothing, Danish citizens tend to spend their money on vacations or art. In terms of daily life, most Danish people dress modestly and live in houses similar to their neighbors’.
Try to avoid the temptation to compare yourself to others and live modestly. It may just make you happier.
If you’re interested in learning more about happiness, read Dan Buettner’s book, The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World’s Happiest People. I’ve covered sections in the book I found most interesting, but there’s so much more in the book that gives you practical tips on how to be happy. It’s a great read.
Has being happier and de-stressing helped relieve your GERD symptoms? Let me know in the comments below!
*This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure here.