Hawaii’s tropical island paradise isn’t the fountain of youth, but it’s close. Hawaii locals not only live longer -- they’re less stressed and happier than residents of any other state.
Just how much longer are Hawaii residents living? A 65-year-old in Hawaii will live another 16.2 years on average, as compared to another 10.6 years in Mississippi, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in addition to living longer lives, citizens of the Aloha State are getting happier as time goes on. For the past four years, Hawaii has taken the top spot in Gallup-Healthways' statewide well-being poll.
So what are the Aloha State’s secrets to happiness and longevity?
The slowed-down, low-stress island lifestyle gives Hawaiians a major health advantage. Less than one-third of Hawaiian residents say they're stressed out on any given day, making them the least-stressed state population in the country.
What does that slowed-down life look like? “It's what we call 'Hawaiian time and Hawaiian style,'" Rochelle Ballard, a Kauai surfer and founder of Surf Into Yoga retreats, tells the Huffington Post. "It's just enjoying time with friends and family stopping by, and taking that time to laugh and tell a story, even if you have a busy day. I think the reason we have that healthier, longer life in the islands is because of that laid-back lifestyle."
Sunshine and Fresh Air
Hawaii has pristine beaches, lush tropical greenery, and average temperatures in the 70s in Honolulu, so locals soak up plenty of sun -– and health benefits –- by spending so much of their lives outside.
"You get vitamin D from the sun when you're out, and it's easier to be physically active here -- you're not dealing with two feet of snow for a good chunk of the year," says Dr. Bradley Willcox, a longevity expert and professor in the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii.
Fresh Food and Exercise
"People tend to eat better here and exercise more,” says Willcox. More than 60 percent of Hawaiians exercise – second only to Alaska. And the Hawaiian diet, which is heavy on fresh fish, legumes, vegetables and fruits, also helps protect the body against diseases. "In Hawaii, you tend to have an east-west blend of eating habits," says Willcox, who adds that the Hawaiian diet has many of the benefits of the Japanese diet, in addition to being lower in salt.
Looking on the Bright Side
The optimism that is central to the Aloha spirit has proven health benefits. Hawaii residents are optimistic that their cities are getting better, according to Gallup data.
A growing body of research is linking happiness with good health and longevity. People with a positive life outlook may enjoy better sleep quality, and Harvard researchers have found that happiness may boost immune system functioning and decrease the risk of heart disease.
Exemplary Health Care
Not all states are created equal when it comes to health and happiness, and Hawaii sets a high bar for the rest of the country. Hawaii's exemplary health care system mandates that employers provide care for any employees who work more than 20 hours a week. As a result, says Willcox, “people get good health care here.”
Hawaii residents are particularly good at prioritizing spending time with family and friends –- activities that affect stress levels, well-being and longevity. The community spirit has a way of rubbing off on individuals, creating a uniquely Hawaiian perspective on life. “You see more stress-resistant personalities,” says Willcox. "Every weekend, everyone's out on the beach for a cookout with family members all around.”
Like people in any state, people in Hawaii have to deal with the reality of work and financial obligations. But the true secret to the Hawaiian lifestyle may be something that can’t be measured in any poll or study: perspective. Hawaiians are experts at living lives that are more about personal relationships and rich experiences and “less about money,” according to Ballard: "Even though people have to work, they make more time for things that have value to them -- that's family time. Whatever island you live on, it's a joyful experience to live the Hawaiian lifestyle."
Clarification: Language in this post has been updated throughout to reflect that its subject is not just Native Hawaiians, but residents of Hawaii more broadly.