A recent article in the New York Times shared research on longevity that revealed that the people who live the longest not only live healthy lifestyles, but also tend to engage and connect with the people around them. They visit their neighbors. They teach classes in town. They pass down traditions to their children.
In other words, they contribute to the world around them.
The article didn't come out and say it, but what it alluded to was that as people age, they tend to find themselves consuming more and creating less. To put it bluntly: the easiest way to live a short unimportant life is to consume the world around you rather than contribute to it.
Meanwhile, the people who keep on contributing tend to be the ones who keep on living. The message was clear. People who contribute to their community live longer.
But why is this true? And how can you apply it to your own life?
How Do Prisoners of War Stay Alive?
Prisoners of war who have managed to survive the most brutal conditions will often claim one of the most important factors in survival is not food or water, but a sense of dignity and self–worth. In other words, the only thing that keeps some men alive in the most dire of circumstances is the belief that they are worthy of being alive.
Applying this to our daily lives, it makes sense that longevity would be prevalent in cultures where contribution is baked into everyday life. For example, let's take a culture where it's common to go to your neighbor's house and talk each night. During a face–to–face conversation, you have to either contribute or sit silently in the corner like a weirdo.
The act of contributing to a conversation, no matter how simple it seems, allows you to derive a small sense of self–worth. Being a meaningful part of conversation makes you feel like were a worthwhile part of your neighbor's life. When you add up all of your small contributions to the many conversations over the years, it's easy to see how you can develop a strong sense of self–worth when you live in a culture where contribution is typical.
You alter the course of other's lives by what you create and contribute. When you speak or write or act, you influence the people around you. When you contribute something to the world, you matter. And thus the act of creating enhances your feelings of self–worth.
That’s important and it’s often lost online. It's becoming increasingly easy to spend our time consuming rather than contributing. Smartphones, iPads, and Kindles. Twitter and Facebook. The web in general. Most of the time we spend on those devices and networks is spent consuming what someone else has created rather than contributing our own ideas and work.
The result, I believe, is that our sense of self–worth slowly dwindles and our lives become less healthy, less happy, and less meaningful.
When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.
As you know, this website is not only about living a long, healthy life but also about doing something with it. And this new research is great news if you're looking to make a difference. Creating and contributing to the world is not only a foundational piece of living a healthy and happy life, but also a meaningful one.
You can't control the amount of time you spend on this planet, but you can control what you contribute while you're here. These contributions don't have to be major endeavors. Cook a meal instead of buying one. Play a game instead of watching one. Write a paragraph instead of reading one. You don't have to create big contributions, you just need to live out small ones each day.
Too often we spend our lives visiting the world instead of shaping it.
Be an adventurer, an inventor, an entrepreneur, an artist. Suggest your own ideas instead of reacting to everyone else's. Be an active participant in life and contribute to the world around you. Make good conversation. Make good art. Make good adventure. But above all, make something.
Contributing and creating doesn't just make you feel alive, it keeps you alive.