By Steve Davidson


The Montréal Review, March 2024


Sunset Dive by David Doran


Some time ago, now, Johns Hopkins University ran an unusual and remarkable twenty-five-year study on the process and benefits of psychotherapy, and the results were published (Persuasion and Healing: A Comparative Study of Psychotherapy, Jerome Frank).  There was good news, and there was bad news, and it was the same news.

Getting better was a matter of common-sense efforts, over many years, aimed at the obvious—constructive attitudes, honest relationships, realistic life-style goals, and consistent effort.

Basically, it was the things your mother told you.

Now, it might be fairly asked— “Why am I forever seeing revolutionary breakthroughs in relation to happiness and long life, if what makes a good life is a constant, available to mothers and common sense everywhere?”  These faux revolutions are due to the conceptual marketing triumvirate: (1) The public, naturally, craves new, and easier, solutions to persistent social and personal problems.  (2) The media (news, television, books, magazines, etc.) crave new, quick solutions to sell to the public.  (3) Researchers and writers crave sales of their new ideas and products.  In and amongst all this craving, it’s not too hard for everyone to get confused!  Every other day, it seems, a miraculous “breakthrough” is announced.  Then that eventually dwindles away, of course, and another one takes its place.  Round and round.

There’s an amusing story about a comedian who was dying.  He was asked, “Is it hard to die?”  His classic reply: “Dying is easy.  Comedy is hard.” 

That’s about how it is with unhappiness and a short life . . . versus . . . happiness and a long life.  Sometimes the most obvious things, and the best things, are the hardest.

Happiness Book Reviews

What follows are reviews of books full of suggestions for being happy, followed by books about living a long life.  This review-essay concludes with a synthesis of happiness and longevity suggestions, and a final thought on the identity of the Secret Genie of Good Living.

These happiness books present fundamental means to be happy—in a sense, paths to emotional enlightenment.  The happiness books here reviewed arise largely from the experiences and observations of people living the principles—true experts, in a sense.

Copenhagen Streets by David Doran

The Danes and Hygge

Ever been to Denmark?  It’s a world apart.  Neat, clean, orderly, safe, healthy, educated, well-built, beautiful.  And the Danes routinely score near the top of surveys of world happiness (as well as quality of life and education).  How do they do it? 


Louisa Thomsen Brits’ Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort, and Connection is a short, easy-reading, warm, chatty introduction to a profound lifestyle of coziness.  It’s even illustrated with photographs of slippers, a fireplace, woven throws, a kitten, candles, and cake (in case you were uncertain as to what cozy looks like).

Hygge amounts to taking deep satisfaction in simple pleasures in the company of close friends and family.  It has several components, some not obvious.

A discussion of hygge should probably begin with the philosophical context (as presented in, for example, George Lakey’s Viking Economics).  Danes, as a group, share a huge number of beliefs and values.  They all (mostly) want a country which is prosperous, open-minded, and just, in which each citizen is respected and can participate in governance, where all and sundry are cared for adequately.  They agree that there should be a high-quality educational system, and students should take school seriously; then workers should do their best to produce high-quality goods, and provide excellent services.  That is, everyone should sincerely contribute to a society that works. 

(If somebody mean comes along, like the Nazis, the Danes defy them—as shown in David Lape’s Hitler’s Savage Canaries: A History of the Danish Resistance in World War II.  Guts, brains, and a profound sense of justice.)

Beyond philosophy, there is the Danish political context.  Making sure everyone has food, housing, medical care, and education is expensive.  That means high earners must, more or less happily, contribute a large portion of their incomes to the national kitty.  That results in the people at the top of the income scale having fewer mansions and fewer Ferraris than they would have in a more liberal tax scheme (for example, the Cayman Islands, or Bermuda). 

It wouldn’t do (would it?) to have hidden hucksters scurrying around in the dark behind the stadium, trying to rig the socioeconomic game in their own favor, while betting on their rigged game.  Therefore, potential miscreants must be observed by a public which is alert, educated, and engaged.  The politicians the voting public puts in power are expected to be honest, and to be capable of superintending this costly social system, which is so high in equality and health.

Given a sound philosophical and political context, then hygge, the cozy, chummy inclination of the average Dane, begins to make more sense.  It’s a lot easier to focus on relaxing in an environment well-designed, well-run, and secure, than in one perpetually teetering on the edge of lethal catastrophe (like the entertaining, spectacular, scandalous ones showing up in the international news every day).    Hygge per se has several components.

First, rationality.  Emotions are inclined to run riot in the brain when left unsupervised.  Paranoia, illusions, delusions, terror, obsessions, depression, intractable conflicts—they all thrive in the emotional hothouse of the limbic system unless they are, let us say . . . talked to.  There is a reason the cortex, the more rational part of the brain, is above the limbic system, that is, superior to the limbic system, and the reason is, well, the evolution of reason, from lower to higher. 

As the Johns Hopkins study of psychotherapy concluded, the way out of life’s emotional difficulties is focused, rational problem-solving, issue by issue.  To function successfully and comfortably in life people must employ reason—the valid deduction of probabilities from verified facts, aimed at thriving.

The Danes are very reasonable.  Extremely grounded.  Therefore, nobody goes off half-cocked with guns, acid, knives, and explosives in Copenhagen when cozying up over hot chocolate and marzipan around the fire.  (Do they?)

Second, Zen.  (Okay, it’s not specifically Zen, but it’s Zen-like.)  Plain, functional designs. An emphasis on crafts, handmade cups and clothes, and a particular fondness for natural weaving (artistic tendencies called wabi-sabi in Japan).  An air of calm contemplation.  A gracious presence.  Non-intrusive warmth and friendliness.  Smooth, easy movement.  A passion for simplicity.  A grounding in earthy fundamentals. 

Danes can be quite well-dressed, and Copenhagen, with its neat brick buildings and copper roofs, is an elegant city.  But Danes have a charming tendency toward the beat-up sandals, the baggy pants, the loose sweaters, the accidental hair, the cup of coffee and the bright eyes, the genial smile and the casual posture. They look hygge.  An entire nation, dare one say, of Zen priests, with a predilection for marzipan, and a little Tuborg beer.

Third, community.  Friends and family, neighbors, even visitors from across the sea.  Danes are comfortable folks with whom to share a glass of wine, good memories, and cheerful plans by the fire.  The whole country exudes an aura of easy, chummy togetherness, hygienic functionality, relaxed competence, and hopeful outlooks.  No ax to grind, no chip on the shoulder, no mad visions violently promoted.  Hygge

A thousand years ago, the Vikings had a ferocious reputation (e.g., Gwyn Jones’ A History of the Vikings).  Longboats, berserk attacks on Britain from out of the misty, chilly sea, swords, battle axes, fearsome screams, sudden and vicious theft and killing, then a quick retreat back across the water to the hidden hinterlands of Scandinavia.   No problem in dying in combat—the beautiful Valkyries flew the heroes up from the battlefield to Valhalla, to drink with Odin until the end of time (specifically, Ragnarök, Doom of the Gods). 

But the Nordic countries have left all that behind (e.g., Anu Partanen’s The Nordic Theory of Everything, and Michal Booth’s The Almost Nearly Perfect People).  They are now among the most peaceful, rational, and well-managed countries on the globe.  And, as a group—the happiest.

(China, the resident seven-hundred-pound gorilla of international economics, scores sixtieth on the world happiness ratings, in case you are wondering.  The Chinese obviously haven’t gotten around yet to establishing a sufficiently well-funded Happiness Institute.  But if they can do the Olympics, bullet trains, and Confucius, maybe they can do happiness.)

Poolside by David Doran

The Finns and Sisu

Some people may believe that the reason the Finnish people are so happy, routinely scoring at the top of the world happiness ratings, is that Santa Claus and his elves live in Finland (in Rovaniemi, to be exact, just below the North Pole).  But it’s not so.  The reason is . . . sisu!

A current Anglo-American psychotherapeutic formulation of human misery and recovery goes something as follows: (1) An unhappy individual has been traumatized by life.  (2) To recover a semblance of good cheer, the individual needs to explore the trauma, in detail, in a serene, supportive, professional setting.  (3) Eventually, an improved mood, and increased self-possession and productivity may materialize, though this healing, as it’s called, could require years of patient trial.

The Finns, in their passion for sisu, beg to differ, as it were, that that’s how it works.  The Finnish Way, by Katja Pantzar, is a wonderful book, shining a light on what must be one of the high points of current world civilization.  The Way is cheerful, buoyant, and reader-friendly, and not too long.  Yet her coverage of the Finnish philosophy of life, economics, politics, child-rearing, and education is well-informed and thorough enough to create a fairly detailed picture of the Finnish mentality and lifestyle. 

Like the Danes, the Finns have created a society where all are respected and feel appreciated, industry is humming, money is available for education, vocational training, health care, and childcare, the streets are clean and safe, efficient and inexpensive transportation is readily available, both teachers and new mothers (i.e., nurturers) are highly respected, and people feel comfortable and secure.  And happy.  Hey—who wouldn’t be? 

(Although some visitors, of a nit-picking architectural persuasion, might take issue with the Finnish obsession with . . . anonymous boxes.  Surely some Finns have travelled to Portofino, Paris, or the Cotswolds, and have noticed alternative structural designs . . .?)

The author of The Finnish Way, Pantzar, who lives in Helsinki, and who appears to be remarkably vigorous and healthy herself (like most Finns), claims a master’s degree in journalism and in communication from English and Canadian universities.  Not only that, but—now, get this—she claims to swim in the sea all year round . . . in Helsinki . . . near the Arctic Circle! 

This . . . is . . . SISU!

The principle of sisu goes like this, approximately: (1) Life is not, by itself, a picnic.  There’s a paucity of resources, there’s a short growing season, there’s a long, dark winter, there’s intense cold, there’s snow, and there’s ice, not to speak of the Russians hovering close by.  (2) Dwelling on all those difficulties isn’t going to help.  (3) Rather, do these two things, daily, from an early age.  First, accept that life throws at everyone serious challenges all the time.  That’s just how it is.  Second, get in the habit of responding to those challenges with energy, organization, and confidence.  Don’t let anything get you down! 

That’s sisu.

Sisu, then, is a cute, catchy Finnish term capturing the concept of robust wellness, what many people call tough-mindedness, or hardiness, or resilience.  In baseball parlance, it’s called stepping up to the plate.  In the Olympics, it’s called the championship mentality.  As the saying expresses it—when the going gets tough, the tough get going

That’s Finland.

(The United States, the resident eight-hundred-pound gorilla of international economics, scores twenty-third on the world happiness ratings, in case you are wondering.  Canada is fifteenth, and Britain is twentieth.  Not terrible, but not quite gold-medal territory, either.  Perhaps there is creative work to be done in the happiness realm.  We’re looking at you, Silicon Valley.)

Dan Buettner and The Blue Zones of Happiness

Dan Buettner is a phenomenon.  He’s a world-traveling bicyclist who got interested in why some populations of the world (blue zones), such as the island of Ikaria, in Greece, are much happier and live much longer than others.  And he’s not just observing coincidences and offering generalities. 

Buettner is testing the generalities in real places over real time, like communities in Minnesota and California.  It’s correlational research, technically, but still, it’s impressive—ambitious, expensive field studies regarding a state of mind of intense interest to most people (especially to doctors, needless to say).

Blue Zones boldly points out that creating a zone of happiness and longevity may require leaders (blue leaders?) with compassion for the health of the typical citizen (blue values?), as well as substantial funding, legal expertise, lobbying, public relations, and serious, savvy engagement from the citizenry.  In other words, the bluing of a community won’t happen by itself.  Healthy changes call for citizen-based organization, funding, and persistence.

Blue Zones of Happiness is fascinating, solid, and easy-reading.  Buettner very practically points out that readers can test these blue principles for themselves, for their families, or for their communities.  The testing process amounts to looking at conditions associated with happiness, choosing the ones which are most appealing, and the ones which look like they would have the most effect, then giving those conditions a good trial run.  Then see what you think—if you liked the process of duplicating the conditions of happiness, and if you feel happier.

The Bluing of a Nation

Buettner’s essential message is this: happiness is not just a presumption that can be put on like a hat, even though that’s what everyone seems to be hoping for—a happy hat.  Rather, happiness is a state of cheerful comfort which follows certain habits of mind and of living.  Happiness is a state caused by specific conditions, which are generated by the individual, the community, and the leaders.  His findings perhaps can be summarized usefully as follows:

  • Rest and nutrition.  Eat right!  Lots of fruits and vegetables.  Get plenty of sleep!  A healthy, rested body is the obvious foundation of a happy state of mind.  A body in a dangerous condition will stress your mind, until that danger is corrected.
  • Positive attitude.  All of life has positives (good things) and negatives (problems).  Learn to be realistic, to face and solve problems efficiently, but focus primarily on the good things, the excellent accomplishments, and the helpful opportunities.  Develop the habit of optimistic thinking
  • Will power.  Develop your concentration, and your ability to focus on, and persist towards, a goal despite challenges, stress, fatigue, and complications.  Develop within yourself focused tough-mindedness.  Such mental skill-building calls for proper intent, time, and effort.  But it can be done.
  • Camaraderie.  Closeness to others builds a sense of belonging and security, another foundation for happiness.  Make a point of getting along with, and enjoying the company of, family and friends, supervisors and colleagues, clubs and spiritual organizations.  Be friendly.  Be a nice person who associates with nice people.  You’ll feel better!
  • Sound finances.  There’s nothing more stressful than running out of money. “Hon, what happened to that thousand dollars we had yesterday?  Did we spend it already?”  Be prudent in your expenditures.  Make sure you always have enough money to cover your necessities, and a little extra to invest, as well as back-up for a rainy day.  Money isn’t a curse, it’s a gift, but a gift you have to give yourself.
  • Life design.  Draw a blue blueprint for your life.  Set your sensible goals, then your feasible paths.  That is your plan for happy living.   Don’t just wait for good fortune to somehow show up, or for happiness to “happen”.  Seize the reins of your existence.  Make your habits work for you.  Visualize what you want, and what is good for you, then realize your dreams.
  • Joie de vivre.  Enjoy Your Life!  Do something every day that you find to be fun.  Go for a bike ride, or a walk in the woods, or a sail.  Make a cup of tea, and read a book.  Whatever you would enjoy.  Figure out what you like, then put it on your schedule, then do it.  Live, laugh, love . . . today.

Overall: Seven Rules for Happiness

No guidelines will work for everyone, and no guidelines will work for anyone every time. But, on average, day in and day out, these suggestions, if reasonably followed, should, at the very least, help mood management.  Carrie Fisher, of Star Wars fame, once remarked, “Sometimes I feel like my life ended and I’m still here.”  Here are some ideas for avoiding such a twilight state:

  • Listen to your mother.  As Johns Hopkins University, and its distinguished Dr. Jerome Frank, pointed out, common sense and practical problem-solving are the watchwords of mental health.  Your mother knows you best, and she knows what makes you healthy and happy, and she’s told you many, many times.  As it was put long ago, “Whoever has ears, let them hear”.
  • Stay healthy.  It’s hard to be happy if you’re sick.  Or tired.  To paraphrase Monty Python—all right-thinking people are sick and tired of being sick and tired.  Get eight hours of sleep.  Eat an apple.  Wear a raincoat when it’s raining.  In spite of the sophistication of medical training, the perennials of health are known to all, and haven’t changed much in ten thousand years.  A healthy life is like an elevator—if you don’t push the button, it won’t go anywhere.  So, push the button.
  • G’Day, mate!  The Brits, especially, have a beautiful concept of mateyness—pub mind, as it were (also known, in slightly more cosmopolitan regions, as bonhomie, cordiale, and simpatico).  The concept is one of cheerful friendliness, casual courtesy, and comfort in the company of others.  A respectful willingness to reach out, to listen, and to share.  A companionable search for amusing, stimulating, common ground.  Mateyness works remarkably well in romance, families, neighborhoods, and even occupational settings.  As you help other people feel happy, you feel happy.  It’s infectious. 
  • OrganizationDisorder is the vile foundation of, well, mental disorders.  Get organized!  Figure out where your talents lie, where your interests lie, where you can make money, then get started on your education, and your career.  Every day, every week, plan what you are going to do, then do it.  Set up a reasonable budget, and stick to it.  A step at a time, following a sound plan—your life will work, if you work it.  
  • Sisu.  Get on that bike!  Who cares if it’s cold?  Life is a challenge, and you are its champion.  Go for it!
  • Hygge.  Existence can be stressful, so it’s easy to forget the importance of taking the time, once or more a day, to simply cozy up!  Put on Sibelius’ soothing Finlandia, light a candle, make a cup of hot cinnamon chocolate, grab your favorite teddy bear, and savor the warmth and serenity of good living in a secure world.  
  • Appreciation.  As that ancient paragon of wisdom goes, “Count your blessings”.  (If you’re not counting—you know who you are.)  While you’re engaged in your hygge, take some time to stop, and simply appreciate—yourself, your home, your family, your friends, your job, and your many successes.  Don’t belabor your failures.  Everyone has them.  Focus on what’s good, and what’s working.  Those are the foundation of your happiness; those are the stones with which you will build your life

The best things, sometimes, are right in front of us, if we look.  The brilliant and wildly successful entertainment impresario Douglas Fairbanks created, in 1924, an enchanting silent movie, The Thief of Bagdad.  It begins with a wiseman talking to a child out in the desert under a night sky bright with stars.  The wiseman directs the child’s attention up to the stars, which read: “Happiness must be earned”. 

There it is.

Longevity Book Reviews

Everyone wants to live a long life.  Although, no one wants to live a long miserable life.  Everyone wants to live a long happy life.  Some means to achieve greater happiness have been suggested above.  What follows are books offering suggestions about how to stretch out the lifespan of that happiness.  The concluding take-aways, as with happiness, are seven actionable principles, in this case, for a related issue, longevity.

California Study

The famed Stanford University psychologist Louis Terman began a study of genius in 1921.  The Terman Study of the Gifted not only assessed the intelligence of about fifteen hundred young people born around 1910, but the study has followed the participants through time to see how really bright people fare in the world.   Areas of life assessed in questionnaires were, for example, health, home activities and relationships, school and vocational histories, income, emotional stability, and the aging process.  The data amassed (though largely phenomenological) is stupendous in size, and unique in content.

Drs. Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin, in The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study, present findings from the Terman Study of the Gifted in an easy-to-follow report focused on longevity.  Their appealing, readable, solidly researched book is packed with detailed information, broad conclusions, and copious practical suggestions regarding how to keep on keeping on.

Here are seven key points which reasonably can be drawn from Longevity (many of which echo the themes of happiness, in a reassuring demonstration of convergent validity):

  • Health.  In an obvious, basic way, live a healthy life: establish control over the progress of your life, don’t just let it drift; choose reasonably successful and healthy friends, and spend time with them; take walks and exercise; eat right, and keep your weight down.
  • Not unhealth.  In a correspondingly obvious, basic way, don’t live an unhealthy life: don’t do drugs or drink too much, don’t take large and unnecessary risks, don’t angrily sabotage your relationships or career, and don’t be careless with money.
  • Goals and plans.  Set reasonable goals and work patiently at them; plan a good life, and follow your plan; adjust as necessary, but be largely consistent.
  • Optimism.  Maintain an optimistic outlook on life; focus on the positives, the good people, and the good things they do; make a conscious effort to stay calm and even-tempered (keep your stress level down); and try to stay hopeful.
  • Problem-Solving.  Yet face actual, serious problems squarely and resolve them as quickly as you can; don’t let them pile up into unmanageable, costly burdens.  Sometimes things go wrong, and you feel bad—deal with the disappointments as well as you can, then make a conscious effort to progress out of the shadows and back into the light; problem-solve, then move forward.
  • Charity.  Compassionately consider others; do something on a regular basis for the larger world, something thoughtful and kindyou’ll feel better, and you’ll live longer (probably).
  • Never say die.  Never consciously “draw your life to an end”; stay open to the new; always be doing things that interest and excite you, and lead you onward to your next horizon, your next passion, your next success.

Longevity energetically smashes two matching myths.  Myth One: conscientious, cautious, punctilious people are so worried about living that they die young.  Myth Two: wild-oat-sowing, devil-may-care, late-night rabble rousers have so much verve and energy that they live forever.

Not so.  The reverse—live carefully, and stay healthy for a long time.  Then bury the hell-bent-for-leather crowd, even if you say something nice about them when they go.

Spring in Japan by David Doran

Japan and Ikigai

The Japanese appear, at times, to be a bottomless well of fascinating ideas. One of them is ikigai.

Two Spaniards, Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, with no native bias, presumably, have presented the world with the remarkable Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.  Garcia, living in Japan, is a CERN-level software engineer, but his short book could hardly be a more comfortable read, skating from topic to topic with well-constructed clarity and admirable thoroughness (likely with the assistance of his self-help author collaborator, Miralles). 

Every once in a while, the book shows a chart, such as a comparison between psychoanalysis and logotherapy, presumably to reassure readers that the authors haven’t lost track of their notes on psychotherapy.  And the total conceptual model is presented as a tidy Venn diagram, displaying the overlap between the key concepts Passion, Mission, Vocation, and Profession.

Remembrance of Things Past it’s not.  There are no lines in Ikigai like, “In myself too many things have perished which I imagined would last forever”, or, “Like a pure and supernatural being that unfolds its invisible message as it goes by”.  But then, Proust died at fifty-one.  (From an insufficiency of ikigai?)

A jug of plum wine, this ikigai book, and thou, and right there you could be equipped for a good life.  It’s that comprehensive and sensible.

Your ikigai, specifically, is your primary purpose in life.  It is something you believe in, and you love to do, and you are good at.  And it makes money

(That last point is a very important one not to neglect, especially at the end of the month.  The Japanese are not prosperous for nothing.)

Garcia’s and Miralles’ observations on Japanese longevity perhaps can be felicitously grouped and summarized as follows:

  • Physical.  Stay lean and fit; keep moving; and eat right, mostly vegetables, as often as possible fresh out of your own garden.  (You do have a garden, don’t you?)
  • Social.  Be friendly; get together regularly with friends and have some fun; stay on good terms with everyone.  (Don’t be the nail that gets pounded down; don’t be the neighbor left on the roof in the flood!)
  • Mental.   Dedicate yourself to your ikigai—it’s not a sometimes thing.  Focus on the goal and all the steps leading to it; do perfect, flawless work (think Lexus); genuinely love whatever crafts you choose, and the life you build around them.  Stay calm, and aim at a cheerful existence which will carry you through the days, the weeks, and many years.
  • Financial.  Veer towards lucrative pursuits; have a primary vocation (your ikigai), and a back-up vocation, as things might go wrong with the primary track.  Invest as much as you can—mostly conservative/low-payback options, but also throw in a few high-risk/high-payback options, because you could get lucky.  Be financially sensible, and secure, at every step.  No dropping through thin financial ice.
  • Genuine independence.  All together: be an active, well-respected member of your group, while being quite able to take care of yourself—a good member of the community, but also free.

(The Japanese, should you be wondering, rank fourth on the world longevity lists.  Ranking number one in longevity, perhaps surprisingly, are those slick folks from Monaco.  The national dish of Monaco is barbagiuan—a pastry filled with ricotta cheese, then fried until crisp and golden.  It’s tempting to attribute the stellar longevity of the Monégasques to a delicious, unique, fried pastry; but that conclusion, however appealing, would be of dubious scientific provenance. Too bad.)

Seven Rules for Long Life

Carrie Fisher, the beloved Princess of the Force, as well as a clever screenwriter and a well-paid script consultant, once remarked, “Sometimes I don’t think I was made with reality in mind”.   Similarly, it sometimes it looks like human beings weren’t made with intelligence in mind. Does it?

Else, why do they choose sugar snacks, marijuana, and credit card debt over bruschetta, a glass of Chianti, and a balanced budget?  Part of the reason is that in the thrilling, disorienting sideshow of modern life they lose their dedication to the verities of long life.  Here, by way of reminding, are some of the more critical ones, drawn from the Stanford life study, and the wisdom of the Japanese.

  • Love.  The number one priority in long life is belonging.  If your mother doesn’t take good care of you, as everyone knows, you are in serious trouble.  And the importance of attachment, of mutual caring, continues through life.  It applies to family, friends, teams, and even employment.  Loving people do better at every stage, and last longer.  To paraphrase the great actress, humanitarian, and Dutch Resistance member, Audrey Hepburn—love will open every door.   
  • Nutrition.  Here’s your mother again.  Eat right, clean your plate, and don’t complain.  The most legendary restaurant in America is the French Laundry.  It’s out in the country in California, surrounded by planted fields—talk about fresh sourcing!  Fruit, nuts, vegetables, fish, pasta, wine, spring water.  Eat right, live long
  • Exercise/activityMove!  It’s tempting to just sit all the time.  The computer.  Books.  Music.  That dogeared outline for the Great Welsh Novel.  That private scheme, with doodles, for the conquest of the world.  It’s not so much going to the gym, or playing rugby, as simply staying active.  Go for a walk.  Walk into town, rather than drive.  Wander through a museum.  Go jogging with a friend.  Your heart will appreciate it.
  • Common sense.  Common sense has come in for a beating in the press in recent years.  Why, you ask?  Common sense doesn’t sell.  Radical departures from normalcy sell.  But people with common sense live longer.  Train yourself to be skeptical of revolutionary announcements, and to penetrate to the actual tests of new ideas, as you look for verifiable results.  Your best guide as to what will work next time, is what worked last time.  And what works is often common knowledge—use your head to help your heart.
  • Lucrative career.  Not necessarily Wall Street, or eye surgery, but a “good income” in your opinion, something you love, that will pay your bills, and allow you to put a little aside for vacations, investments, and retirement.   Knowing you have the money to deal with problems takes some of the stress off you, and maybe grants you a longer life.  
  • Spirituality.  Consider joining a spiritual group, even of your own initiative; gather with them frequently; be engaged in their activities.  A sense of cosmic belonging and continuity is reassuring.  Serenity and a like-minded community take some of the pressure off survival.  Read a Good Book, as you see it, and tell your friends.  Speak the words of wisdom, and sing a song of praise.  Then take the family to breakfast.
  • Civic hygiene.  It’s hard to be happy, or live long, in a snake pit.  Look at a picture or painting of happy people.  The environment is almost always clean, nicely designed, neat, and orderly.  The “Philosopher’s Walk” in Kyoto is a cavalcade of trees, and ponds, and fountains, and gardens, and elegant shrines and temples, meticulously maintained.  Civic beauty is a component of mental health, of serenity, of longevity.

Readers in Wonderland

Readers and media form a paradoxical, toxic system of disinformation which is, from a certain angle, heartbreaking and tragic.  The media (news outlets, magazines, movies, television, and books), dignified and highly cognizant, are supposed to provide the public with useful information.  The public, mature and responsible, is supposed to be interested in consuming useful information. 

However, consider these two imaginary news item options.  First: “Practical, Tested Steps towards Leading a Long, Happy Life”.  Second: “Entrepreneurs Announce Miracle Cures for Aging and Depression”.  Who is going to click on the first article when they could click on the second?  The public craves instant, easy answers, therefore the media, and business, supply them, or, at least, an imitation of them.  And so it goes—electrifying improbabilities are substituted, over and over, decade after decade, for wisdom and sound practices, until the public, including the concerned, educated public, is at a loss as to which are the best policies in life, and which aren’t.  (As the Harvard psychiatrist, Robert Coles, pointed out, intellectual fads aren’t necessarily good advice.)

In addition . . . there exists something which might be called the Fundamental Unhappiness Syndrome: people often want to avoid the hard stuff (like exercise and salad), and do the fun stuff (like watching television and eating pizza); then somehow gain the benefits of doing the hard stuff (like being in good condition and staying slim), while not paying the costs of doing the easy stuff (like losing strength and gaining weight)!  Many years ago, in Individual Psychology, Alfred Adler, the famous Austrian psychiatrist, identified that beguiling, but self-destructive, illusion. 

That contradictory cognition is virtually the essence of psychotherapeutic blind alleys—a radically false theory of how to make life work, which is fiercely embraced because it is so appealing, even though unhappiness usually dogs the footsteps of such fallacious thinking.  The goal here, of course, obvious but not easy, is emotional enlightenmenta recognition of how life actually works, and a corresponding willingness to meet, and master, life on its own terms, thereby gaining a healthy mental status.

One of the curiosities of happiness and longevity research is how quickly and consistently one arrives at relatively simple, perennial commonalities.  Perhaps the best way to approach news about electrifying research regarding near-magical solutions for living is this: focus on, and depend on, what is obviously tried and true, while keeping an open mind towards research possibilities.  In other words, exercise sound reasoning within a creative mindset.

In Conclusion

Remembering seven happiness guidelines isn’t too bad.  Then remembering seven longevity guidelines isn’t too bad.  But trying to remember fourteen guidelines is a bit much.  So, here, in three concepts, is:

How to Lead a Long and Happy Life:

  • Physical.  Stay lean, stay fit, and stay active.  Eat right.  Not too much sake or wine.  Probably not even too many barbagiuans.  Lots of vegetables.  Not too much food, for goodness’ sake.  Keep your weight right where it belongs.  Visit the doctors regularly.  Adopt an obviously healthy physical lifestyle!
  • Vocational.  Dedicate yourself to a reasonably lucrative career about which you feel deeply passionate.  Get a solid education, even if it’s just a good OJT apprenticeship.  Then largely stick with your career path.  Do excellent work.  Be as successful as you can be within your talent range.  Garner good earnings, and make a point of enjoying them, even as you buy some stocks and bonds, and sponsor some local promising businesses.  Work hard, and enjoy your life, while investing wisely.
  • Social.  Make reliable, trustworthy friendships, and strive to keep them life-long.  Spend time regularly with your family, friends, and colleagues; share interests and enthusiasms; talk, eat, drink, laugh, sing, dance!  While being capable and responsible as an individual, be part of a strong, admirable, close group.  Love your social circle, and your life; be good company.

Fortune versus Initiative

A creative, can-do principle hides in all this. People are inclined to believe that happiness and long life are a result of some moody, evasive Goddess of Fortune.  There is, naturally, some truth to that view.  Temperament and longevity are partly a result of genetics, which are partly random.  And, good luck does, indeed, shine on people from time to time.

But, probably, a savvier way of looking at a long and happy existence is that, as with marriage, friendships, careers, gardens, and fitness, such an existence is consciously constructed and maintained, providing a holistic basis to health and happiness.  That is—happiness is something you can engineer!  As the Johns Hopkins study concluded, people who want a good life, full of confidence, well-being, cheerful feelings, financial success, and good relationships, should do the things necessary to create that personality and that life

This is the essence of powerful and gratifying true independence!

Meet the Genie

There is a wonderful old story about a wanderer who discovers, washed up on a beach, a Secret Genie in a bottle.  This Secret Genie of Good Living has the ability to grant precious wishes regarding personal virtues, like happiness and longevity.  Who is the Genie?



Dr. Steve Davidson is a clinical psychologist in Laguna Beach, California, with many years of experience. He has developed a new theory of personality and psychotherapy called human operations. It conceives of people as goal-oriented systems aimed at surviving and thriving, as described in his book An Introduction to Human Operations Psychotherapy.




The Montréal Review, January 2024



The Montréal Review, October 2023



The Montréal Review, June 2023



The Montréal Review, June 2022



The Montréal Review, February 2022



The Montréal Review, December 2021




The Montréal Review © All rights reserved. ISSN 1920-2911