A Long, Healthy Life

Why The Biggest Life Hack Isn’t A Hack At All

Most of us have used life hacks on one or more occasions in our lives. However, a more profound question is: why do we want to use hacks at all? Think of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the ultimate hack. We want machines to do all of the boring, mundane and repetitive tasks in the world so that we can live MORE. This article outlines why what we truly desire is a long, healthy life and a few secrets that can help us achieve that objective. In that sense, we don’t desire a short cut but what we truly desire is longevity combined with good health.

Why Hack?

As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary a Life Hack is a usually simple and clever tip or technique for accomplishing some familiar task more easily and efficiently. In Hindi, it also means ‘jugaad’. Roughly translated, a jugaad is a non-conventional, frugal innovation, often termed as “hack”.
In an article titled ‘Use Jugaad to Innovate Faster, Cheaper, Better’ in the Harvard Business Review, Jugaad is defined as a Hindi word that loosely translates as “the gutsy art of overcoming harsh constraints by improvising an effective solution using limited resources.” In crude terms, a hack is a shortcut.

Humans are an ingenious lot. I have lived in India long enough to witness thousands of clever ways of overcoming a scarcity of resources. From devising intuitive but cost effective ways of sending the first mission to Mars to MittiCool — the low cost, biodegradable refrigerator made out of clay is a great example of jugaad innovation (source:techstory.in), there are countless examples of life hacks not just in India but all across the world.

Let’s take a very simple example. Most of us have used YouTube to save time learning how to do many different things. YouTube has almost replaced the user manuals of millions of products. We also look to YouTube for answers to our fitness problems from learning how to do a perfect ab crunch to learning about a healthy diet. Enough said — most of us understand the value of and have used shortcuts.

However, think deeper. Why do we even resort to shortcuts? Why do we want to hack in the first place? If you think like an economist, the answer lies in the concept of ‘opportunity cost’. However, if you think like a lay man — the answer is simple — we want to free up our time to do more meaningful things in life. We want to have more of a limited resource (time) to do the things we love. Most importantly, we want more time to spend with friends and family. Then, there are a million reasons why we want to free up time — a creative pursuit, reading, playing etc.

Indulge me in a tiny thought experiment — if I were to make you an instant billionaire — the richest person on the planet even, what would you do with all the time on your hands? For many of us, the answer is resoundingly clear-create memories with our friends and family. Following our passion, leaving the world a better place with a brilliant invention, a piece of art or giving away a part of our wealth to charity are all different answers.

At the end, we want MORE time to do the things we love. In that answer lies the crux of my argument. We all want more time to do more things. Ultimately, what all of us desire is longevity. A long, healthy life of course. I would love to do the ‘funky chicken’ with my grandkids or great grandkids. Many billionaires on their death beds regret having spent time with their family.

With that in mind, let me share a few age, old secrets to a healthy life using wisdom from people who have actually led long, healthy lives — centenarians or near centenarians.

A Centenarian’s Wisdom

Take it from centenarians or near centenarians like Charlie Munger— they have seen more of life (pandemics, depression, financial crises) and emerged almost unscathed — longevity offers a unique perspective on life.

Illustration of the story of Hippocrates refusing the presents of the Achaemenid Emperor Artaxerxes, who was asking for his services. Painted by GirodeBy Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson — Public Domain, wikipedia

Most importantly though, the things that contribute to longevity offer a more unique perspective. Most people who have lived a long life list a few common ingredients in a recipe for their longevity.

First, people who have lived a long life have been cheerful most of their life. Everyone goes through stress-at work, in life — lost jobs, failed marriages, financial insecurity etc. However, the key is how we deal with that stress. The best solution is a healing community primarily composed of friends and family. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book ‘Outliers’ explains how physicians discovered why people living in a small town in Italy — Roseto Valfortoree didn’t get heart attacks despite not having the best diet or excercise regime or even the best genetics:

They learned about the extended family clans that underlay the town’s social structure. They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof, and how much respect grandparents commanded. They went to Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. They counted twenty-two separate civic organizations in a town of just under 2000 people. They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the town, that discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures.

In transplanting the paesani culture of southern Italy to the hills of eastern Pennsylvania the Rosetans had created a powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world’

Second, the other secret to staying cheerful was to avoid the famous ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ attitude. A positive mindset devoid of jealousy, envy and resentment. How is it possible to have a cheerful life when you are always envious or resentful?

Third, the key to a long life is to avoid or get rid of toxic relationships. People who are not trustworthy should be the first ones to go followed by people who keep hurting your feelings. It’s very simple-keep people in your life that believe in the age old axiom from the Bible — “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

Fourth, most of the people that lived a long life had a healthy diet- no surprise there. However, what is more surprising is that many consumed alcohol every day — a glass of port wine or brandy. The key to their good health though was moderation.

Fifth, even though many centenarians did not have access to a gym or a set exercise regimen, they lived an active lifestyle. My father, for instance, is a very active man — from shopping for groceries to walking to the train station, he leads a very active lifestyle. I have no doubt he takes more than 10,000 steps every day.

Fifth, you have to what you have to do in a day i.e. actions needed to sustain livelihood in this world. In other words, create your own karma. Make time for hobbies that don’t have any end result except hours of pleasure. Add meditation to the list and mental health suddenly improves dramatically.

Finally, keep a tight budget and never, ever spend more than you earn especially using debt (credit cards). Invest in assets that generate a steady income — a portfolio. Building a portfolio that outlasts many a crisis requires takes time and patience. It is one activity that allows you to practice a balanced mindset.

To be honest, it is not easy to follow any of the ingredients of the recipe above. It is equally true that there is nothing new in what I have outlined in the paragraphs above. As Mahatma Gandhi once said ‘I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Non-Violence are as old as hills’. That’s because most wisdom is age old and has withstood the test of time. Developing wisdom as an end, in and of itself, also takes time.

The Not So Simple Superpower

My friend once asked me a very familiar, simple and yet overpowering question : what if I had a superpower? It took a CoViD-19 crisis for me to finally find an answer. My answer : If I had one superpower, I wish it would be the ability to cure others of their ills — mental and physical. That’s what the real heroes in this crisis — the doctors and other medical staff continue to do.

The more time I spend in this world, my friends, the more I believe that if you take care of your health, the rest will automatically fall in place which is why the biggest life-hack in this world is longevity.

Come to think of it-longevity means leading a long, healthy life. That’s no life hack at all — it is the pursuit of a long life and not a pursuit of shortcuts which is why the biggest life-hack is pursuing none at all. A healthy life requires discipline and consistency over a long period of time.

As Jocko Wilink , a US Navy SEAL says in the title to his New York Times bestseller “Discipline Equals Freedom”. Freedom to pursue more of what you love.

Stay healthy, my friends, and devote all your energies to the pursuit of good health. The pay-off can last centuries.

Writer @ The Intersection of Finance, Tech & Humanity. Stories of a Global Language: “Money”. Contributor @ Startup Grind, HackerNoon, HBR. Twitter@akothari_mba

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