Monterrey, Mexico may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about happiness. Poverty, corruption, unfulfilling jobs and lack of education are social issues that touch most families there either directly or indirectly. And yet as, Dan Buettner explains in his book Thrive, the people living in this community share an abundance of what he refers to as “happiness assets ” that increase both their longevity and their quality of life.
Central to this community’s happiness is the practice of faith. Even if you don’t consider yourself religious, you can benefit by adopting some of their habits.
Believe something bigger—and better—than yourself.
Many of the world’s religions are based in belief in a god that is omnipotent and omnipresent. “But simply believing in God alone doesn’t guarantee happiness,” writes Buettner. An uplifting faith, one that allows for peace and hope, is what the people in Monterrey seem to share… and it makes a positive difference in their lives.
Connect with people who support and encourage you.
Their “supercharged faith helps people cope with hardship–even if it just means having someone listen to one’s problems,” Buettner writes. Community has long been linked to longevity. Having people you can trust to share your struggles, and in turn people you support and encourage, is a common trait in all Blue Zones. (A Blue Zone is an area where people live long and especially happy lives.)
Faith-based communities are often referred to as families that are linked by the bonds of love and shared belief. They offer a place to turn in times of tragedy and a community with whom to celebrate life’s joys. Knowing you aren’t alone and that other people deeply care for your well-being can give you a healthy, happier outlook on life.
Participate in faith-building, stress-relieving activities regularly.
Growing up, Sunday mornings weren’t altogether stress-free. My parents took turns hollering for me and my siblings to drag ourselves out of bed. Then there was the prospect of what to wear—nothing ever seemed right. Then came the inevitable fights with my sister in the car on the way to church. We arrived at the building tense and frustrated. Thankfully, all that stress evaporated as soon as the singing started.
The fact is worship, meditation, prayer, and turning your mind from self-focused to things of an eternal, spiritual nature all help reduce stress. Research shows that those who meditate regularly have higher levels of activity in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain, “the part of the brain where happiness ‘lives,’” says Buettner. Other research suggests that belonging to a faith-based community can add between four and fourteen years to your life when you meet at least four times a month. A weekly time to rest, pray and focus on family, friends and faith—whether that’s for an entire day or just a few hours—helps you connect with what really matters in life.
Be good to yourself.
Most spiritual practices of the world offer advice for “good living.” That advice often includes abstaining from behaviors that are considered risky—sexual promiscuity, drug use or excessive drinking for example. You don’t have to be religious to understand how such behaviors could negatively affect your physical health and mental health, or shorten your lifespan. The reality is that those who avoid risky behaviors tend to live longer.
However, more important than the list of dos and don’ts that exist in most religions is the underlying belief that each person has innate value and is worthy of respect—including self-respect. That belief shows up in various ways, from practices regarding diet and health to acknowledging that every person has a purpose on this planet. The core message is: This life is a gift, cherish it.
Faith connects people in a powerful and unique way. It offers a way to reduce stress and increase peace… and it very well may help you live happier.
Erin K. Casey is a writer, editor and book coach who helps people share their message. She is a Texan living in Ireland, and she loves to talk with people about why faith matters in the real world.