A while back I was sitting in the peaceful waiting area at my gym, waiting for a massage appointment. Another woman sat down to my left just as two ladies entered arm in arm, one helping the other into a chair. When I saw their faces, I knew right away they were mother and daughter. The striking resemblance between mothers and daughters (or fathers and sons), physically and in terms of mannerisms, is one of those beautiful wonders in life. What was uniquely special about this pair was that the daughter looked to be in her mid-70s.
The woman sitting next to me asked them if they were mother and daughter, and the younger woman answered, “Yes, this is my mom. She just turned 94.”
I smiled, listening to these sweet ladies converse. The 94-year-old old mom said energetically, “Are we all relaxed today, ladies?” She was full of light and joy.
The woman next to me asked her, “You look amazing and full of life! What's your secret?”
Without hesitation, the mom replied, “I've always surrounded myself with nice people. That's the secret.”
I was touched by both the power and the simplicity of her answer. I've often thought about, and even written about, how allowing unkind, negative people into our lives can affect our emotional and physical well-being. I'm a big believer in being very mindful about what we tolerate. But I hadn't really thought too much about how it could affect our physical health in the long term, and specifically our longevity, until now.
Could it be that after healthy conscious eating and regular physical activity, the next most powerful key to a long life is kindness?
As kindness is an expression of love, and love is the most powerful force known to us, this connection is undeniable. Psychology affects our biology in powerful ways, and therefore our longevity.
There are numerous studies that support this idea, including a recent study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where half the participants were assigned to take part in a loving-kindness meditation each week for six weeks. The other half was assigned to a control group.
Participants in the group taking part in the loving-kindness meditation practice increased in positive emotions in comparison to those in the control group, as well as increased in vagal tone (the activity of the vagus nerv which is our longest cranial nerve). In general, the greater the vagal tone, the greater the physical health of the person, especially when it comes to heart health. The study results suggest that positive emotions of loving-kindness, positive social connections and physical health influence one another in a self-sustaining upward-spiral dynamic.
This study shows that increased love and kindness in our lives can affect our biology in impactful, healthy and positive ways. This is great news because it means that we have more tools in our toolbox to increase our physical well-being, as well as our chances of living a longer, fuller, happier life.
We can eat healthfully, exercise daily and even live a relatively happy life.
But if there are toxic negative people around us on a consistent basis, and we're allowing their negativity to affect us within — like a slow moving bacterial infection — this alone could bring on disease by weakening our defenses.
On the flip side, even if the negative energy created by others in our lives is at a very low level, I believe our health and longevity can be affected by being closed off to the abundance of love and kindness offered to us from so many sources. The key here is to make a shift to being mindful — consistently remaining in a state of being open to receiving, and deliberately noticing the beauty in the world, especially during rough times. This can mean something as small as taking a moment to breathe in and be grateful for a smile from a stranger.
Kindness, love, gratitude and beauty can affect us not just on emotional and spiritual levels, but on cellular levels as well.
The simple advice from the beautiful, joyful lady I encountered in the waiting room punctuates this idea. To me, she is living proof.
Here are some thoughts on how we can make a shift to reduce the negativity we absorb from others, and increase the levels of love and kindness we give and receive:
- The energy we put out comes right back to us. If we begin to take responsibility for it, and make a conscious effort to be kinder, gentler, more compassionate and more loving toward others — on a consistent and meaningful level — the kindness and love that comes back to us to fill our hearts will be greatly magnified, and will be a source of light for others. Like attracts like.
- We must look closely at, and be mindful of, what we tolerate. Everyone has ups and downs, but if there are people in your life who are consistently negative, unkind or toxic, changes need to be made. Walk away from, or decrease your exposure to, those people who drain you in negative ways. You deserve to be treated with love in every scenario.
- Change the way you look at some of the negative people you experience. Know that toxic, negative, hurtful behavior is a cry for love and acceptance. By seeing a person who is being negative or hurtful with compassion and love, we can change the way we respond to that person. Perhaps we can even create a powerful positive shift that will break a toxic cycle (for ourselves and for that person) through our response of love and kindness. This is a great place to start when it comes to healing relationships.
The message we can receive here is that we have the power to choose to create simple shifts right now, shifts that will benefit both our physical health and emotional fitness (as well as those around us) in amazingly positive ways, and increase our chances of becoming centenarians with ease.
I also believe there is an even greater message here to be considered. The answers science has been looking for to increase the human life span don't necessarily lie with pharmaceuticals, animal studies or test tubes, but may lie in a kinder, more loving, more giving world.
As citizens of this global community, the call to action from this perspective is to collectively work together to shift our energy to love, compassion and kindness — in purposeful ways, on such a level, that the duration of our lifetime on this earth can be expanded beyond what we ever thought was possible.