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“Secrets of a Long Life”, the November 2005 National Geographic cover story by Dan Buettner, was the start of an extensive research project on longevity. The researchers initially found five areas (later designated the Blue Zones1) where people enjoyed both longer and healthier lives, including Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; and Sardinia, Italy.

Buettner stressed the common thread of on-going social engagement and supportive families in each of these five locations. Further data from new “Blue Zone” regions strengthened the initial finding that supportive communities and strong family networks were key factors of long, healthy lives.

In a similar light, the Grant Project (now the Harvard Study) closely followed both Harvard students and inner city youth in Boston for over 75 years. This research also demonstrated the importance of supportive relationships2 in achieving long, happy lives.

The Harvard Study prospectively found that those who were highly satisfied with their relationships at age 50 were also much more likely to be hale and hearty at age 80.

A third study, the Nun Study published in 2001, examined the effect of positivity in early life on mortality rates later in life.3 In this study, researchers determined the “positivity” level by rating 180 autobiographical essays the nuns had written before taking their final vows between 1930 and 1943.

The Nun Study demonstrated an astonishing 2.5 times higher death rate when the data was examined fifty years later in those whose early life autobiographies were ranked in the “least positive” compared to those in the “most positive” quartile.

These three studies present intriguing evidence that the quality of our relationships and the positivity of our mental framing are highly correlated with an increase in health and longevity.

However, if we’re already on an unhealthy track or live in an unhealthy culture, can we successfully reset our routines to improve our health, happiness, and productivity?

The answer is a definitive, “Yes.”

In his book, Flourish4, Martin Seligman chronicles a seismic change in the discipline of psychology over the last twenty years from a focus on alleviating mental diseases to one of learning how to increase the overall sense of well-being of “normal” people. This shift toward what is now known as positive psychology has resulted in a toolbox of skills that can redirect thought patterns and actions in a manner that enriches life.

In an earlier book, Authentic Happiness5, Seligman discussed research that supported five key elements of a more fulfilling life:

  • Positive emotion,
  • Engagement,
  • Relationships,
  • Meaning and purpose, and
  • Accomplishment.

Extensive research shows that the skills to build these qualities can be learned and integrated in a short time with impressive benefits.

A synopsis of positive psychology6 addressed the weakness of the prevailing “disease model” approach as follows:

At the center of this approach lies the issue of prevention. How can psychologists prevent the problems that so many people experience, like depression, addiction and anxiety? Fifty years under the disease model showed that the pathology approach does not move psychology any closer to the prevention of these issues.

Similar concerns about the relevance of focus applies to much of healthcare. Current approaches have failed to adequately address our most concerning chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Positive psychology can improve the treatment of depression and anxiety by integrating a fresh approach with new insights and processes. Can mainstream medicine do the same?

The knowledge basis to reduce the burden of chronic disease is known, but it is not readily available in medical education or to practicing physicians. Processes to bring this knowledge into the practice of medicine are rare and overwhelmed by the dominant product-directed culture (see previous Conversations).

To respond to this gap between what we know and what we do, Switch Healthcare developed a results-oriented database and integrated it with the processes that can put knowledge into action. We call this comprehensive solution “decision focused health.” The synergism in this approach is ignited when people who want to be healthier are given the tools and support to make better decisions.

It’s a major understatement to say that investing a sixth of our economy in a healthcare system that delivers poor outcomes is a big problem. Turning this around requires focus and collaboration, not massive investment.

The opportunity is enormous.

Breakthrough To Better,

1The Blue Zones
2Harvard Study proves that embracing community helps us live longer
3Positive emotions in early life from the Nun Study
4Flourish book review
5Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman Ph.D., April 2011
Positive Psychology Program article on Positive Psychology


Switch Conversations is a bi-weekly blog exclusively for designated key employers.


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Edition 1 – Solving a Well-Entrenched Problem
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Edition 3 – Best marketing tagline of all time?
Edition 4 – Post-Truth Killed a President
Edition 5 – What’s an employer to do?
Edition 6 – Profiting From the Opioid Epidemic
Edition 7 – The Keys to Unlocking Better Decisions
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Edition 15 – Can AI save healthcare? (Part 3)
Edition 16 – Embracing Reality to Improve Healthcare
Edition 17 – Everything I Needed To Know…
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Guest Post – Happy Thanksgiving! By Jeff Novick, RD
Edition 35 – Transformational Courage – Part 3