Can nations learn from each other to increase wellbeing potential?
Imagine you're conducting a survey. The objective is to find out how people feel about their lives.
What's the one thing that you could guarantee the survey would highlight? What's the one constant throughout every human lifespan? The answer, I think, would be that life's a mix of the great, and the not-so-great.
For instance, our time on Earth contains Friday nights (yay!) but we also have Monday mornings (boo!). Some days are full of fun and excitement and sunshine (yay!), but life also offers days of tedium and rainfall (boo!). I guess you'd call these life's vagaries. Or life's ups and downs, pros and cons, vicissitudes. One thing life doesn't seem to offer is plain consistency. It's just how it is.
This mix of contrasting positives and negatives also seems to exist for entire nations and cultures as well as for individuals - and it's something I've thought about a lot lately. One country may have great roads but the wrong climate, while another may have great food but a high crime rate. In each place I've ever been, the culture offers a mix too - so while some places may emphasise the value of, say, socialising, others may focus on the benefits of hard work.
Having spent extended periods of time overseas myself, I've definitely been aware of just how radically one place differs from the next - and the extent to which an overseas country's wellbeing positives can really make an impression on you, maybe even helping you make lifestyle changes.
So why don't we look to other nations more often for inspiration to help us maximise our own wellbeing? If most countries offer a cultural positive that the rest of the world could potentially benefit from, perhaps we've been missing a trick?
Looking beyond borders is often inspiring and can also sometimes nudge us out of our familiar and comfortable ways of thinking. I believe it can also offer valuable and sometimes unexpected insights into our own, often unquestioned, ways of doing things.
So without further ado, here is a selection of global Third Metric inspirations:
Happy cycling. Is it all down to coincidence that the Netherlands has more bicycles than citizens and also one of the West's lowest obesity rates? Okay, so not all countries provide quite as flat a terrain as you get in the Netherlands, but even so, there's an incredible love of (and respect for) the bicycle as a means of transport that the rest of us would do well to emulate!
Channelling your inner Mediterranean. We hear a lot about the Mediterranean diet. However, you don't need to be a geography teacher to know that the Med covers a pretty big area. It touches three continents and laps against the coasts of quite a few countries , including Egypt, Croatia and Spain. In other words, Mediterranean means a pretty diverse set of nations - so it's not like there's one set diet in terms of cooking style or specific ingredients.
However, if you look to the countries that surround the Mediterranean sea, then you won't go wrong for health inspiration. Diet-wise, there's plenty of olive oil and fresh fruit besides a great many healthy dishes such as tagine. In terms of lifestyle in Med countries, there are some inspirations here too. If you've ever felt the 2pm slump and wanted to crawl (or simply flop) under the desk, then you'll no doubt cast an envious eye in the direction of Spain, where an afternoon nap is still reasonably commonplace. A good few studies have concluded that an afternoon nap is healthy - it even helps lower your blood pressure. The heat of the mid-day sun may be the chief reason for the working day being a split shift - but the wellbeing benefits seem to go beyond simply avoiding sunstroke.
Common sense working hours are of course one of the Third Metric's foundations. After all, if you don't get home until silly o'clock how are you supposed to enjoy the lifestyle your job brings?
Optimising work to leisure ratio. Estimates seem to vary depending on where you look, but there does seem to be a consensus of opinion emerging as to which country is edging furthest towards a new, shorter working week - and that's the Netherlands. Generally regarded as one of the most progressive nations around, many of us probably have a pre-formed (but positive!) image of the Dutch as tall, laid-back, and productive. Definitely not a nation of slackers, anyway. Interestingly, the Netherlands - as well as having a good work/life balance - also has, according to the OECD, a much higher female employment rate than the organisation's average.
Putting it all together. Visiting other countries and soaking in the culture is key here. It's one thing for initiatives to promote things like cycling, but quite another to see at first hand just how cycle-oriented a foreign metropolis may be. On top of that, the cycling culture itself may be different from the one back home. In quite a few European towns and cities, lycra-suited powerhouses sitting on the blade-thin saddle of a mega-expensive machine are pretty rare. In fact, many folks seem to amble along on large, black, traditional bicycles. But the fact that the first instinct is to bike it rather than climb into a hatchback is the interesting part. And I'm guessing the answer is because, in a lot of countries (especially the flatter ones), it's just what you do.
So just how do we incorporate the Third Metric-friendly aspects of foreign cultures into our lives generally? I think the answer lies in putting the Third Metric at the heart of how we evaluate our experiences at home and abroad - and identifying the opportunities for improvement, wherever we may find them...
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