Over the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at the factors that make for a longer, richer, more alive life.: (1) Loving life and living for the present (2) Working, stretching, and relaxing all parts of yourself (3) Dancing with consciousness (4) Reducing media consumption (5) Paying attention to your breathing (6) Eating less (7) Prioritizing community and service (8) Exchanging love and touch. You can read more about all these topics on our blog (there’s a lot more to them than the list you just read!). Today I’ll add a couple more items to the list.
#9: Optimize Your Sleep.
There are people who live long lives but don’t sleep well or much, but they tend to be outliers. Virtually everyone lives better, if not also longer, with good sleep. One of the leading causes of death has always been accidents and we’re a lot more likely to have them when we’re tired or mentally cloudy. Furthermore, when we’re well rested, we’re more likely to operate from the “evolved human” part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) – thinking rationally and broadly. When we’re tired, we often default to the primitive “animal brain” and make decisions based on survival, pleasure-seeking, and pain-avoidance.
There’s really no substitute for adequate, replenishing sleep. If you want to learn something, you need sleep to imprint what you’re learning in a lasting way. If you want to get stronger, you need sleep to turn all that exercise and protein into muscle tissue. If you want emotional intelligence, patience, and mature communication, you need sleep in order to be non-reactive. If you want optimal performance in anything – music, chess, gymnastics, or foosball – you need sleep to recharge your nervous system. If you want to kick an infection, you need sleep to give your body a chance to do its work without demanding other things from it.
#10: Laugh More.
When I recommend laughter, I mean two things. First, just laugh more – because it’s fun and it’s good for your body and mind. Listen to stand-up comedy, share jokes, exchange tickles, join a laughing club, choose funny media over bitter. Do whatever it takes for you to have more belly laughs in your life.
Second, take a light-hearted attitude toward life. And death. In my opinion, there’s nothing that can’t be laughed at. I don’t mean derisive, mean-spirited laughter. I mean the laughter that comes from the recognition that life is funny, that there is humor in everything – including the seriousness in which so many of us hold everything. And I also mean delighted laughter – the laughter that arises from simply paying attention to how much beauty, magic, and profundity there is.
Which leads us to…
#11: Keep Your Heart Open.
It’s a natural but unfortunate impulse to close our hearts when life is unpleasant – like raising our arms to shield ourselves against an incoming attack. What I mean by “closing our heart” is a subtle contraction around the center of the chest that occurs on multiple levels simultaneously – physical, emotional, and energetic.
We do this as an instinctive act of self-preservation, but it becomes a habit of not feeling. Living with a closed heart is like narrowing the spectrum of reality we allow ourselves to experience. For what it’s worth, though, I don’t believe the heart only has two states – open or closed – it’s a range.
I recommend consciously living through your heart. Feel through your heart. Breathe through your heart. Listen through your heart. Keep it open even when you’re in pain, even when you’re afraid, even when you’re angry. You can do this just by intending it. Put your attention there, soften, and let it open like a flower.