Content provided by the Health & Wellness Team at GBS Benefits
“At 80, you are merely a youth. At 90, if your ancestors invite you into heaven, ask them to wait until you are 100 – then, you might consider it.”
This saying is roughly translated from Japanese and is carved in a small stone marker in a village north of Okinawa’s main island. While it may seem bold or misinterpreted, the saying accurately represents the portion of Japan’s population with over 86,000 centenarians (individuals over 100 years old).
“Meeting for a Common Purpose”
One of the leading factors contributing to the longevity of the Okinawan people are social groups called moai. The term originated hundreds of years ago as a financial support system and means “meeting for a common purpose.” Originally, moais were formed to pool the resources of an entire village for projects or public installations. If an emergency arose, moais would gather to pool money locally. The idea has expanded to become more of a social support network, a cultural tradition for built-in companionship.
Traditionally, moais would be created by pairing groups of about five children together. They meet frequently to visit, share hobbies, take care of their community, and pool financial resources. Some moais have been known to last over ninety years!
A Safety Net
While studying Blue Zones, Dan Buettner met with many centenarians. In Okinawa he met Klazuko Manna who, at 77 years old, was the youngest of her moai. She stressed that moais are more than superficial gossip or talk but rather “each member knows that her friends count on her as much as she counts on her friends. If you get sick or a spouse dies or if you run out of money, we know someone will step in and help. It’s much easier to go through life knowing there is a safety net.”
Social connections can have a long-term impact on health and happiness, with research indicating that loneliness can shorten life expectancies. Moais bring groups of people together to provide emotional and financial support as well as lifelong friends. They create a support system that helps reduce feelings of stress and worry while providing a sense of purpose and connectedness. Many moais often share similar values, healthy habits, and life goals and can provide a level of accountability or growth for one another.
Developing Our Own Moai
Social connectedness is ingrained in Okinawan culture and lifestyle. It may be important to ask ourselves how we can develop our own moai. Luckily, many have access to built-in groups of friends and acquaintances through work, neighborhoods, church, or community groups. Identify common interests with those around you and make plans to share hobbies together. It may require courage to try something new and make new friends, but the relationships that are formed can be significant.
Strengthen current friendships and relationships with family members by communicating frequently, sharing meals, and laughing together.
Here are a few suggestions for expanding your inner circle:
- Join an amateur sports team.
- Be curious – make the conversation about others and ask questions.
- Join a new exercise class at your local recreation center or gym.
- Start a book club.
- Ask for introductions when in a new setting.
Fun Fact: Moai is also a Polynesian word for the world-famous sculptures found on Easter Island.