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China Daily Global / 2021-06 / 11 / Page016

Are happiness and passion the secrets of long life?

By Kara Schroeder | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-06-11 00:00

When I contemplate moving on from China, there are many things to consider: where I will decide to settle next, what my career will look like in another country, and how complicated it might be to relocate with all of the possessions I've accumulated over the years. But two questions I mull over the most often are,"Will I have seen and done everything I've wanted to in China?" and,"Would I want to live out my elderly life in the city or the country?"

Last month, I had the opportunity and privilege to travel to the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, and visit some of the area's longevity villages, where many centenarians reside. This was one experience I wanted to have during my time in China. But being a work trip, there wasn't much messing about as we had to be efficient, although many unexpected incidents popped up. There were electricity shortages, last-minute schedule changes, insect attacks and even a car breakdown on the way to the airport. Nerves were frayed and patience was scarce; until we made it to Caixiang village, where I met 103-year-old Luo Youfu, my first interviewee for a video project I was working on.

Entering the village immediately gave a sense of repose. The birds chirped, the chickens clucked, the kittens mewed, and the people gave toothy smiles accompanied by curious gazes. The villagers are of the Yao ethnic group, which has many subgroups, each with their own dialect. Although I couldn't understand what they were saying, I could sense their peaceful approach and happy temperaments. My first view of Luo was his face that had a smile that reached his eyes.

While my colleagues helped me interview Luo, I sat across from him as he held both my hands in his, which were surprisingly strong. He laughed and sang and I was later told he said words of affection to me. I was impressed by his energy and spirit. I also became a bit nostalgic for my grandmother. Although I hadn't seen her much since I moved abroad, my memories remain of her being humorous, a bit demanding, mostly lucid and very intelligent. She passed away in 2019 at the age of 103. Up until her last few months, she had also impressed me with her energy and tenacity. Like my grandmother, Luo could still recall many moments and emotions he had experienced in his 103 years of life.

Learning that Luo woke each day at 6 am to work in the fields, do chores, socialize and ferment wine, I also thought of how active my grandma had remained in her little suburban home-organizing her "papers", following the stock market, taking her scooter through the McDonald's drive-through, and socializing with her neighbors and family. After meeting three more centenarians in the villages of Guangxi and discovering that all of them stayed active and enjoyed continuing to work in their villages despite their old age, it made me begin to wonder about my own life.

On our way from one village to another, my colleague posed a question: "Would you rather live in a big city with luxuries and experiences but only live until 80 years old; or would you rather live in a village with simplicity and live past 100 years old?"

This was definitely one of the most difficult questions I'd ever been confronted with. I spent my first 17 years on a hobby farm in a town of about 500 people, with no neighbors close by, but with easy and quick access to a city. Since 17, I have spent the majority of my adult life living in small and large cities, albeit not "rich" but more than comfortable with many advantages and privileges. Having worked for years in corporate America, then in media, and once owning a business, it's apparent that I've lived a fast-paced lifestyle. And my health has suffered, both physically and mentally, as have my personal relationships. Despite any negatives, I love my life and consistently feel happy and content.

I've always upheld the idea that I would rather not live to be too old until I met my interviewees. All four of these lovely people seemed to have such uncontainable energy and strength that it made me believe they would live for another hundred years. But I wonder-is it the simple village life that is the key to their longevity? Or is it staying active to keep the happiness and passion for what they do each day and surrounding themselves with the right people? If the latter is the key to longevity, then I think I've got a good shot at following my grandmother's footsteps into old age.


Kara Schroeder





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