Getting By With Help From My Friends

With a Little Help from My Animal Friends

The Okavango Delta, a UNESCO Heritage Site, is located in Northern Botswana. Each year, water flows from the Angolan highlands and floods parts of the Kalahari Desert. The lush habitat attracts scores of animals including giraffes, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, lions and leopards, among many others. It also is home to many types of birds.

The beauty of the landscape is striking but what is particularly noteworthy is how the animals help protect each other. Groups of mixed animals, such as zebras, wildebeest and impala, often commingle and help alert and protect each other from danger, such as stalking lion and zebras.

Birds, in particular, serve an important role. With their “birds eye view”, they can detect a predator stalking its prey from a distance and, with a unique call, warn the prey of impending risk.  Impala, similar to North American deer, are one of the primary beneficiaries and are particularly close to their feathered friends. These relationships have literally saved lives.

With a Little Help from My Human Friends

Our living environments may not look quite as pristine as the Okavango Delta nor are the daily threats to our lives as overtly obvious as stalking lions, but we also rely on our environment and friends to survive and thrive. Research tells us that only about 20% of our longevity is linked to our genes; lifestyle and environment are the primary drivers.

The reality is that we need a robust, face-to-face social network at all stages of life. In fact, Susan Pinker, Author of The Village Effect, argues that having an integrated social life is the best predictor of health and longevity.  Indeed, rigorous epidemoiological studies have linked loneliness and social isolation to a host of unhealthy conditions, including heart disease, cancer and depression. This is a pressing issue in today’s culture, in part, because there is an increasing number of single person households; it simply takes more effort to stay in touch with people when you live alone.

The good news is that we can choose to invest in relationships. A recent New York Times article, “The Power of Positive People”, talks about the impact of choosing relationships with positive people. Researchers have found that certain behaviors appear to be contagious or “caught” through our social networks. Our weight, anxiety and overall happiness are examples of where we are influenced by how our friends measure in these areas.

Dan Buettner, founder of Blue Zones, has partnered with federal and state health officials, to make it easier for people to create long-lasting, positive friendships. In his work in studying people that have lived exceptionally long, healthy lives, Dan has found the significance of long lasting relationships. In Okinawa, Japan, where life expectancy of women is the oldest in the world, people form a social network called a moai – a group of a handful of friends who offer social, logistic and emotional support for a lifetime. Dan is working to create an American version of moais in a dozen cities in the US.

Importance of Our Physical Environment

Much like the Okavango Delta on its animals, our physical environment has an important impact on us. It can influence the quality of the air we breath, our likelihood of eating healthy foods and our propensity to exercise, among many factors.

Our physical environment can also help dictate the friends we choose and the frequency at which we socialize with friends. As David Greusel, an architect, points out in his article “Intentional Isolation in Suburbia”, the typical post-World War II home of suburbia has an outdoor social space: a patio, in back, which is “utterly antisocial and utterly normal”. On the other hand, according to writer Abigail Murrish in her article “Porching in Indianapolis”, there is a movement in Indianapolis to take advantage of its plethora of homes with porches to have regular porch parties. At last count, the porch party movement has expanded statewide with fifty-two counties Indiana counties and seven hundred porches participating.

The power of intentional design is key in Smart Living 360 developments. We create common spaces that are designed to foster interaction and unit floor plans conducive to healthy living.  We also create a mix of curated and organically driven events that bring people together. People have witnessed the benefits of this approach, including opportunities to create intergenerational relationships among residents.

Unlike Animals, We Have Choice 

Animals in the Okavango Delta have adapted to best suit their environment. Our opportunity is different: we are able to largely choose our physical environment as well as our social networks. Let’s hope that each of us chooses wisely and, together, we can keep the inherent perils of life at least arms distance away.

The Opposite of Loneliness

The English language has its limitations. For example, take the word ‘love’. The English language uses one word which the Greeks needed seven words – ranging from eros (sexual love) to philia (friendship love) to agape (love of stranger) – to accurately describe.

A similar example is with the opposite of loneliness. Merriam-Webster defines lonely as “being without company”, “cut off from others”, “sad from being alone” or “producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation”.  According to the late researcher on loneliness and pioneer of social neuroscience, Dr. John Cacioppo, English doesn’t offer an adequate antonym. He suggested the closest proxy was “normal”, although that is clearly not a satisfactory solution. It’s too all-encompassing. It’s not descriptive enough.

Marina Keegan, a senior at Yale University at the time and captured in her New York Times bestselling posthumous collection of essays and stories The Opposite of Loneliness, didn’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness but she knew that’s what she wanted. She says:

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place. 

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.

Sadly, Keegan didn’t experience the opposite of loneliness in the real world as she died in a car accident just weeks before graduation.

Loneliness is Becoming Normal

Unfortunately, loneliness itself is becoming increasingly normal. Loneliness has doubled since the 1980s and now over 40% of adults report feeling lonely. Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the former US Surgeon General, , in his Harvard Business Review cover story indicates that loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.

One the most powerful predictors of loneliness is living alone. This is particularly threatening for older adults as about 1/3 of Americans over 65 live alone and over 50% of women over 75 live alone.

But, of course, people living among others can still feel lonely. In this regard, Dr. Cacippo describes loneliness as “perceived isolation.” The viral video, #EatTogether, by a Canadian grocer illustrates that you can live among plenty of people in an apartment building and still feel disconnected.

This phenomenon is not unique to the United States. The UK has over 9 million people suffering from loneliness. More than a third of older adults report being overwhelmed by loneliness. A whopping 80% of British citizens over 85 live alone.

Japan is perhaps the most challenged with loneliness coupled with the highest percentage – about a 25% — of its citizens 65 or older. Demographics coupled with frayed families and communities have made it particularly difficult according to a recent in-depth article by the New York Times (“A Generation in Japan Faces a Lonely Death”). Sadly some people are even committing crimes to benefit from the social connection in prison.

How Can We Make The Opposite of Loneliness Normal Again

More seems to be known about increasing loneliness than what to do about it. The UK made a PR splash by creating a “Minister of Loneliness” in January. The anticipated focus of this ministry is to (a) create practices and programs that cultivate conversation, friendship and empathy: the founding of community allotments where solitary folks might gather, and (b) instigate knock-on-door initiatives, with volunteers targeting lonely souls. But it is an open debate as to whether we can institutionalize the elimination of loneliness.

Dr. Cacioppo’s research tested a number of methods and tactics, including many that did not demonstrate positive success. One successful tactic is to change how lonely people think about other people, having them understand what happens when their brain goes into self-preservation mode. Dr. Cacioppo’s research suggests that treating it like a disease is difficult because social connection requires a two-way relationship with others.

One simple yet significant approach is to more commonly practice kindness. Lonely people need an especially heavy dose of kindness. If more people were able to identify those lonely around us and choose to act kindly, say by an empathetic cashier to a lonely shopper at check-out, it would certainly help.

The Important Role of Where You Live

What is probably not mentioned enough in these conversations is the role of where we live in the context of loneliness. Living alone is a driver of loneliness. Fortunately, there are emerging, alternative housing models that help facilitate interaction and connection. For example, co-housing, a communal living approach that integrates shared spaces and a common house for community meals, is a popular housing option in Denmark with some successes in the US and has demonstrated to improve social connection, particularly across generations. EngAGE is an organization that integrates a whole person approach to creative living providing college-level programs in the arts, wellness and lifelong learning into existing communities.

Living in cities or in more dense suburbs (or “sub-urbs”) offers the prospect of a greater number of interactions with a diverse number of people. Susan Pinker, author of The Village Effect, points out that technology can be helpful in bringing people together for important face-to-face connection. In her research, she has found that it’s not just close friends that keep people from being lonely; it is also a broader network of connections, in concert with close friendships, that help people thrive.

At Smart Living 360, we believe location, design and an ethos of social connection can go a long way towards helping build sustained social connection. Walkable locations make it easy for people to see others. Accessible, communal spaces designed for formal and informal connection make it easier to get to know your neighbor. In addition, having a culture where social connection is important helps residents self-select to be part of such a community. Our Lifestyle Ambassador is central in our approach as he knows each resident by name and serves as a catalyst for creating community. We have witnessed the positive impact.

The Opposite of Loneliness is Our Responsibility

Technology advances, shifting family dynamics and changing demographics are all conspiring to make loneliness more common. However, as we all become increasingly aware of the risks to our health and well-being, it is important that we make lifestyle decisions to ward off the hazards of loneliness, particularly as we age. Fortunately, new, innovative housing models will make it easier to make embrace the opposite of loneliness as every stage of life.

Perennials

Are you a Perennial?

What is a Perennial?

For garden enthusiasts, a perennial (plant) is a plant that lives for more than two years. Perennial flowers, like lilies, daisies and poppies, grow and bloom over the spring and summer, die every autumn and winter, and then return in the spring from their rootstock. These flowers are ever-blooming.

However, according to Gina Pell in her blog “Meet the Perennials”, a perennial can mean something else. She asserts that a Perennial is a type of person. A person that is “ever-blooming, knows what’s happening in the world, stays current with technology and has friends of all ages.” Perennials get involved, stay curious, mentor others, are passionate, compassionate, creative, collaborative and so on. Her examples include: Lady Gaga + Tony Bennett, Pharrell Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Malala Yousafzai, Senator John McCain, among others.

Most important is a Perennial is not defined by age, but by a mindset and way of life. They push beyond traditional boundaries and don’t see life as a “one-dimensional timeline that runs from birth to death.”

From Demographics to Psychographics

Marketers tend to bucket consumers into categories. One of the most common categories is by age or generation. Millennials. Generation X. Boomers. Greatest Generation. Teenagers. 55+. Seniors. And, of course, each of these categories comes with their own stereotypes, like how all Millennials eat avocado toast or can’t afford their lifestyle (watch Millennial International video for a fun spoof on this).

Available consumer data makes demographic analysis easy. But what if the straight forward analysis is the wrong analysis? Consider this: I may have more in common – what I am drawn to purchase and consume — with my curious teenage niece on the opposite coast or my wise friend thirty years my senior in suburban Texas than I do with my fellow 40-somethings in the urban mid-Atlantic. Demographic analysis can’t spot Perennials.

This is why psychographics – the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria – is becoming increasingly relevant for marketers.

When It Comes to Housing, Perennials Prefer Age Integration, not Segregation

Where do Perennials want to live?

Maybe it’s good to start to look at where they would not want to live. A recent article in the NY Times real estate section (“Resort-Style Living for Graying Boomers”) which highlights the growth of 55+ age restricted housing in the greater New York market may provide some insights by looking at the online comments section. Perennials offered plenty of opinions like:

  • “I don’t mind getting old, but the last thing I want to do is to surround myself with other old people. I like living in a neighborhood populated by Millennials and young families.”
  • (on living in an age-restricted resort community) “I couldn’t justify the cost and unsettling feeling of being surrounded by people who lived to go to the clubhouse daily, and made it seem that was the main reason for waking up every day… having moved, now I am with people of all ages with different outlooks, making life much more interesting.”
  • “I don’t want to live among a bunch of people my age or older. I’ve been in this house for 38 years and am watching a third generation of new babies. The younger folks do appreciate our knowledge and experience and I have all the tools any one needs to borrow and I keep with the changing mores just talking to them.”

Perennials see the benefits of living in the cities and more dense suburban areas – “sub-urban” according to Smart Growth America describes – that bring people together of different backgrounds and talents all within close proximity of desirable amenities.

It’s a Good Time to be an (Older) Perennial

At some point, physical needs and accommodations become important and relevant factors in housing for older Perennials. Fortunately, a number of trends are in favor of Perennials. One, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a global Age-Friendly cities and communities initiative and has spurred hundreds of cities and communities to make their environments more accommodating for people of all ages. Second, technology – as we have looked at previously – is making it easier and easier to have services delivered on an as needed basis and cost-effectively. Third, substantial real estate development in walkable, vibrant areas is creating a swath of new residential options.

At Smart Living 360, we have a residential model that incorporates elements of a walkable location, smart design and sense of community to attract an intergenerational mix of people, including Perennials, and people like it.

So, Are you a Perennial?

Maybe Gina Pell is right. Maybe for most of us how we think and what we value should matter more than what generation we are part of. Maybe we may have more in common across generations than within them.

Maybe even “perennial” will more commonly be used to describe a type of person than a type of flower. Regardless, it should be associated with something that is ever-blooming and aspiring for more.

The Power of Moments

I’ll Push You

I recently heard 40 somethings Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray share their story about a great adventure to traverse the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trek through Spain. This story is captured in the recent documentary, I’ll Push You. Justin and Patrick have been best friends their whole lives: they grew up together, when to school together and were best man in each other’s weddings. Starting in high school, Justin was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease that eventually required him to use a wheelchair. Patrick and Justin were committed to neither let Justin’s deteriorating health negatively impact their friendship nor limit their dreams.

So when Justin heard about the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trek through Spain, he wondered aloud to Patrick whether the two of them could ever do it. Patrick’s immediate response was: “I’ll push you.” The movie is a powerful story of their journey and is full of peaks and pits. (It should be noted that the Camino de Santiago is a challenging trek for even the most fit athletes!)

The Best Memories are Just for the Young?

Justin and Patrick created a peak moment in mid-life. However, there is a prevailing belief that many of our best moments occur when we are young. In fact, people predict that most of our peak memorable events occur before the age of 30. In an era of increasing longevity where an increasing number of us will have at least 2/3rds of our lives ahead of us, our mindset needs to change.

We can do something about this. As Dan and Chip Heath highlight in their recent book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, there are things we can do to create more powerful moments at any age. Part of their recommendation is to be more intentional about seizing and creating such opportunities.

The Art of Creating More Powerful Moments

They see a defining moment as a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful. The Heath brothers outline four elements of creating such moments: elevation, pride, insight and connection (“EPIC”). Elevation indicates moments where we reach a new milestone or accomplishment. This can often involve something that boosts our sensory pleasures, introduces an element of competition (thereby raising the stakes) and breaks the script of what’s normal. Pride indicates situations where you are especially grateful of what you accomplished. Insights refer to situations where you learned something about yourself and can often happen during times of challenge or transition. Connection relates to times when an experience is shared with others.

The most powerful moments combine these elements. For Justin and Patrick, their experience included all of these dimensions: elevation in their accomplishment of traversing the mountains, pride in their ability to overcome an insurmountable challenge, insights in what they learned about themselves and connection in having this shared experience. With their documentary, they have allowed others to vicariously be inspired by their peak moment.

Creating Moments is One of Our Aspirations

At Smart Living 360, we see a big difference between residing in an apartment building and living in an engaged community. Particularly in an era of increased longevity, we see value in helping people of any age think about ways to add more memorable and meaningful experiences in their lives. This can come in a wide variety of forms. For some, we have witnessed special moments occur when a connection is made between new friends or when a resident seizes the opportunity to try something new. It’s particularly gratifying when residents take the initiative to create events or gatherings in the hopes of engaging others around a common interest and craft memories together.

We’ve also learned that empathy is particularly important in creating moments. A number of residents have downsized from larger homes which they have lived in for many years. This transition can be both exciting and terrifying. Helping smooth this transition in thoughtful ways, with the help of our Lifestyle Ambassador, can lead to very positive moments.

Scripting Your Own Moments: A Thanksgiving Example

Thanksgiving has always been one of our family’s favorite holidays. We took a step towards creating a special moment several years ago when we experimented with a kids vs. parents soccer game among families in our neighborhood. As the kids have grown and become more skilled, the games have become increasingly close and intense. In fact, this year the kids prevailed, surely a peak moment for them. However, we’re coming back stronger next year, and, as adults in our forties, will continue to make memories and hopefully bring back a win.

Man Sleeping

Sleep and 8 Hours Mike

8 Hours Mike

My college roommate and best friend, Mike, is an outlier in many ways. He’s a native Philadelphian who cares more about international politics than local sports teams, manages to be a decent athlete despite being excruciatingly slow at virtually everything he does (his nickname is “Mollasses”) and, in our college days, was perhaps the only person on campus religious about getting eight hours shut-eye every night. If you wanted someone to stay up late or get up especially early, Mike was the wrong guy to ask. He was insistent – and still is – on getting his eight hours of sleep whenever and wherever possible. He is “8 Hours Mike”.

Benefits of Sleep and Health Risks with Sleep Depravation

I doubt 8 Hours Mike was fully aware of the health benefits of sleep but it has probably played no small part in his success in college and in life.  Dr. Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist and Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, expounds on the critical importance of sleep across the age spectrum in his book released earlier this month, Why We Sleep. Dr. Walker claims, based on dozens of research studies, that sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day. Sleep helps cement positive memories and mollifies painful ones, and melds past and present knowledge, inspiring creativity.

Conversely, insufficient sleep causes havoc. Insufficient sleep – routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night – demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer, and also increasing odds of diabetes, heart disease and dementia, among other effects. Too little sleep also makes it more difficult to manage stress and anxiety. It’s no exaggeration to say that not enough sleep can kill you. In fact, more vehicle accidents are caused by drowsy driving than alcohol and drugs combined. This is because, as studies confirm, people awake for nineteen hours or more are at least as cognitively impaired as those who are legally drunk.

Don't Drive Tired

Basics of Sleep

Recent advances in neuroscience have helped us learn more about the nature of sleep. Sleep comes in two forms: Non-REM sleep and REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is more important for restoration and cementing memories; meanwhile, REM sleep allows for dreaming which helps spark creativity.

In addition, our sleep is influenced by two, independent biological elements: circadian rhythm and melatonin. The circadian rhythm is effectively a personal 24-hour clock that signals to your brain that it’s time to wake up or go to sleep. About 40% of people have a circadian rhythm that creates “morning types”, another 30% are “evening types” and the remaining percent fall somewhere in between. The release of melatonin helps spark drowsiness – based on “sleep pressure” and is based primarily on how long one has been awake.

Sleep Across the Age Spectrum

As we age, the type of sleep changes but achieving a full night’s sleep is just as important. In midlife and beyond, we witness a reduction in quantity and quality, sleep efficiency and disrupted timing of sleep. By age 70, we have lost about 80% to 90% of the deep sleep we enjoyed as a teenager. Further, our sleep efficiency – or the amount of bed time to actual sleep time – falls from 95% to between 70% to 80%. Therefore, in order to achieve 8 hours sleep, we need 10 or more hours of bed time. In addition, there is a change in our circadian rhythm as we age so we tend to tire earlier, leading to earlier and earlier bedtimes. Hence, the “early bird” dinner special.

Managing these changes as we age is critical. The lower an older individual’s sleep efficiency score, the higher the mortality risk, the worse their physical health, the more likely they are to suffer from depression, the less energy they report, and the lower their cognitive function, typified by forgetfulness. In some cases, forgetfulness may be more linked to poor sleep than a specific mental condition.

Best Practices and Impact of Living Environment

The National Sleep Foundation and NIH, among other groups, provide some guidance on best sleeping practices. Some of the common ideas include:

(a) Minimize electrical light, esp. blue light from LEDs found in many electronic devices, particularly within an hour before bed time.
(b) Regularize temperature – ideally in the mid-60s – to make it easier to fall and stay asleep
(c) Minimize caffeine, esp. in the afternoon and evening, as this can throw off the timing of your melatonin release
(d) Minimize alcohol, esp. in the afternoon and evening, as it negatively impacts the quality of sleep
(e) Create flexibility on your work schedule, if possible, to better align with your circadian rhythm

At Smart Living 360, one of our central goals is to enhance personal well-being. Your living environment can be customized to optimize your sleeping, including some of the suggestions above, and, with advanced technologies, your sleep can be easily be analyzed and measured to make sure you are getting the slumber you need. Small changes can be significant and nudge you to better health, literally adding years to your life so can you take full advantage of the Longevity Bonus.

A Need for More 8 Hours Mikes

A century ago, less than 2 percent of the population in the US slept six hours or less a night. Now, almost 30% of American adults do. We could help our individual health and our society at large if, like 8 Hours Mike, we were more insistent about getting our eight hours of sleep each and every night.

Why Community Matters

Not All Social Connection is Created Equal

With the recent ten year anniversary of the Apple iPhone, it is remarkable how pervasive smartphones have become. 77% of people in the US own a smartphone, double the percentage from just five years ago. With each new model, these devices are getting faster and more powerful, and more addictive. Critics have highlighted the downsides of smartphones, including its impact on youth. One thing is clear: social media is not the same as face-to-face connection.

Beginning of #EatTogether: Everyone Fixated on Phones

Last year, a Canadian supermarket chain, Loblaws, released a video – #EatTogether – to capture the differences between technology and face-to-face connection. The two minute video captures the isolation of people tethered to their smartphones and devices and flips the script with these same people connecting over a spontaneous meal in the hallway of their apartment building. There is something powerful and natural about sharing a meal with others.

Ending of #EatTogether: People Come Together to Share a Meal

Importance of Face-to-Face Connection

Face-to-face personal connection matters a lot. Research shows that social isolation is worse than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. About 1/3 of us suffer from loneliness. In some ways, women are particularly at risk for loneliness, in part, because women are more likely to be affected by their friends’ feelings of loneliness, as feelings spread more easily within their social networks. Others point out that the biggest threat facing middle aged men is loneliness.

Moreover, trends are broadly discouraging. More people, especially older adults, are living alone – currently ¼ of men and ½ of women 75 years of age or older live alone – and living alone is the most positive predictor of loneliness. In addition, while social media has increased the number of people we communicate with, the number of close friends has decreased from three in 1985 to less than two today.

On the flip side, strong personal connection and sense of community can add up to fifteen years to one’s lifespan. Researchers have found that people with active social lives recover faster after an illness than those who are solitary – MRIs show greater tissue repair. Further, research indicates that people who have had a stroke are better protected from grave complications by a tight, supportive social network than they are by medication.

How We Live and Where We Live Matters

The lifestyle we choose – including where we live – can have a big impact on our sense of community and overall well-being.

There are a number of things we can do. We can work harder to maintain our important friendships, through regular get togethers, reunions, etc. We can also be proactive about making new friends. This can mean joining local civic organizations, book clubs, exercise groups and so on.

We can also choose to live in places that positively impact our sense of community. Walkable neighborhoods and parks (see Smart Growth America for good examples) can help bring people together more often. Conversely, isolated suburban homes where few people know their neighbors is not a recipe for success.

Bethesda Row, Bethesda, MD: An Example of Walkable Mixed-Use Development

Developing a Sense of Community at Smart Living 360

Creating a sense of community is core to the Smart Living 360 philosophy and approach. In fact, connection is one of our three core attributes. We don’t require people to get to know their neighbors but we make it easy. We let prospective residents know that community building is part of our DNA. We have designed common spaces to facilitate small and large gatherings, including a catering kitchen suitable for potlucks and catered meals. Our Lifestyle Ambassador is a key facilitator to bring people together on a regular basis and helps make connection among people in the community.

Exciting things happen when a building becomes a community. People show interest in others’ and learning their personal stories. People start helping each other and invite others to become more involved in their lives. It can become contagious, getting more and more people desiring to be part of the community’s social fabric.

At The Stories, a Smart Living 360 community, residents help tutor French to kids within the community, participate in regular resident-driven get-togethers and celebrate each others’ successes. For example, a long time dream of one resident was to become a policeman. When he was commissioned to the Montgomery County police force last year, residents celebrated around the BBQ to share in his achievement.

Time to Make a Video a Reality

The Eating Together video is compelling. But it’s fiction. Loblaws is trying to change that with the first national Eat Together Day. This is a good start, but we can do ourselves a favor and make eating together a far more regular exercise. Odds are it would help us all live longer, healthier lives.

Evolution of Housing

House & Home Exhibit

Earlier this year, I visited the National Building Museum in Washington DC. The museum has a widely praised special exhibit entitled House & Home which examines how the American home has been shaped by transformations in technology, changes in government policy and consumer culture over many centuries. The exhibit serves as a reminder how much our living environments have evolved and will continue to do so at a rapid pace.

The exhibit is comprehensive and goes beyond construction type and architecture style and shows how technology has impacted our lives within our homes. For example, as noted in the picture above, irons (far left) as well as washers & dryers, dish washers and vacuums have freed up many hours of people’s time each week. It is easy to forget that prior to these innovations, homemakers spent the vast majority of each day washing clothes, cleaning and the like.

Changes of Today

Our homes and living environments continue to evolve. Today, we see greater housing density in thriving urban areas and neighboring suburban areas, particularly in the form of high quality apartment living. Walkability – and even “livability” – is seen as a highly sought after attribute. We are witnessing changes in how people think about and use space.  There is Interest in smaller spaces, such as small houses as evidenced by televisions shows like Tiny House, Big Living and advent of microunits, sometimes as small as 300 square feet, in urban areas. Even bigger homes are being designed in more usable ways. Sarah Suzanka’s Not So Big House book series, which has sold over a million copies, continues to evoke interest and help people design homes for how they really live.

Technology continues to shape how we live. Almost over night, Amazon Echo, or “Alexa”, has become ubiquitous in many households and, in our case, has eliminated the need for a physical grocery list.  Smartphones and tablets have allowed for multimedia viewing from anywhere in the house. There is now less of a need to be tethered to the “entertainment room” or perhaps have such a dedicated room at all. Sonos has done a remarkable job of a making streaming music an easy, relatively affordable and eliminate the need for built-in speakers. With autonomous vehicles available on demand, we may see garages and parking spaces become less necessary.

A Call for New Housing Models

With technology advances, changing consumer preferences and an aging demographic, there is a call for new housing models. Joe Coughlin, Director the MIT AgeLab, believes that “longevity changes everything” and has contributed his vision of the future in what he calls “Gerontopia”, though it is probably more accurately described as “Intergenerational-topia”. This community of the future is designed with all ages in mind and incorporates the right mix of activity, intensity, density and accessibility to work successfully for all people. Naturally, Dr. Coughlin’s model also takes advantage of technology advances, such as easy access to digital and on-demand services, including home delivery of meals, transportation and other elements of the sharing economy.

The Opportunity for Housing to Meld to Desires & Evolving Needs

At Smart Living 360, our vision for housing is to be far more than a place to hang your hat; we believe our living environments should inspire us, create true community and adjust as our needs change. Like Dr. Coughlin, we see an opportunity to develop intergenerational communities in walkable areas which can seamlessly enhance the well-being of a wide range of people. We do this through smart design, an orientation towards community and personal connection and access to important lifestyle and health services. Our onsite Lifestyle Ambassador is key. Evolving technologies also help enrich people’s lives and support on demand services as needs change.

House and Home Exhibit of 2050

Given changes underway and ahead, it will be fascinating to see the House and Home Exhibit of 2050. It’s impossible to accurately predict how precisely our housing will change but we can expect that the iPhone will be considered a relic of the past, which is a crazy thought in 2017.  My greatest hope is that our housing will continue to evolve in a way to help us live an enriching life at any stage in our life’s journey.

Designing for Longevity

The Power of Nudge

For a host of reasons, many of us will live longer, in some cases much longer, lives than our ancestors. In many cases, it won’t just be longer lives, it will be healthier lives. Our DNA has a role in our longevity but our lifestyle – the set of decisions we make each and every day – has a more powerful impact. These choices include the friends we keep, the activities we engage in and the places we live. In other words, our choices have a direct impact on the shape and magnitude of what experts call our Longevity Bonus.

So how can we successfully design for longevity?

Behavioral economists have researched how and what habits or practices can help lead to better decisions. The allure is that a small change or impact at the individual level, if multiplied and scaled, can have a profound impact on society at large.

The most well known behavioral economists on “nudging” may be Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. In their best-selling book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, they define ‘nudge’ as a gentle, not mandated, cue, push or other means to encourage a desired behavior.

Cafeteria

Our kids’ school has been experimenting with nudging. Last year, as part of a student project, they replaced existing trashcans with three containers across three categories with supportive pictures: landfill, recyclables and compostables. The hope is that this signage would prompt people to think about the impact of their decisions. Indeed, it has led to an increase in recycling at the school.

An Example: Nudging to Greater Physical Well-Being

Earlier this year, I attended the Lake Nona Impact Forum which included a panel of the four most recent surgeon generals. Their collective advice for physical well-being: move.  They advocate making sure that we make concerted efforts to move every day, multiple times a day.

I have been making a more intentional effort to be active in 2017 and I have been using the Oura ring to help. The Oura ring is like a fit bit for your finger and does a great job of measuring general activity and quality of sleep. It detects blood volume pulse, body temperature and general movement though sensors embedded in the ring. The Bluetooth integrated app uses an easy-to-understand graphical interface to display results on activity and sleep quality and offers specific feedback and, often for me, words of encouragement.

App Screenshot

App Screenshot 2

The Oura ring has provided helpful nudges to help me stay moving. It is part of a growing body of wearables that are making a difference in people’s health. In fact, there is some encouraging news about the role of apps along with follow up services to help manage chronic conditions and stay well.

Designing for Longevity at Smart Living 360

At our core at Smart Living 360, we design and operate innovative living environments to enhance well-being. In other words, we create “nudges” to help residents find greater purpose, social connection, physical well-being, financial well-being and engagement in their community.

In the physical domain, we create communal areas designed for supporting planned and spontaneous interactions. These activities may include resident-led reading groups and craft clubs, outside speakers, workshops and potluck dinners and socials in our catering kitchen and club room.  A state-of-the art fitness center makes it easy for residents to stay active, even when the conditions are not particularly accommodating outside. A conference room with infrastructure to support telehealth allows for technology and services to help people stay healthy.

In the apartment home, contemporary design with elements of modern living, such as gourmet kitchens with custom cabinetry, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, is coupled with universal design features, such as showers with benches, slip-resistant tiles and wider doorways, to accommodate the desires and needs for people of all ages. The ability to customize paint color, fixtures and technology options all add to the sense of creating home.

Nudging to better well-being also means creating a culture that engages and empowers people. With our Lifestyle Ambassador as the catalyst, we help connect people to each other – creating intergenerational relationships along the way, provide access to services on an a la carte basis and provide for greater simplicity in life, so residents can focus on what’s most important.

What Can We Do with this Longevity Bonus?

The Longevity Bonus is a gift of our modern times, but only if we pursue a lifestyle that nurtures this gift. Thankfully, tools to help us lead healthier lives are increasing, including in the realm of our living environments.

The next step is to make full use of these extra years of life. As we will explore in a future blog, the opportunity to live – what can be extra decades of life – can be an exciting but daunting task and requires as much creativity as it does careful planning.

 

An Era of Accelerating Change

Change All Around Us

Elon Musk may best embody the American Dream among today’s entrepreneurs. A native of South Africa, he has been a trailblazer in the fields of electronic payment (PayPal), solar power (SolarCity), space travel (SpaceX) and electric vehicles (Tesla). Most recently, he founded Neuralink, a neurotechnology company reported to be developing implantable brain–computer interfaces (BCIs). All this and he is only 45 years age. My bet is that he’s not done yet.

The prospect of consumer space travel, autonomous vehicles, and computer-aided brain function can make it feel like we are living in a world of science fiction. But, we are not. These advances are a direct outcome of an era of accelerating change.

Putting Progress in Perspective

It is easy to forget but for millennia not much changed generation to generation. People lived predictably brief and uneventful lives. Then, the Industrial Revolution brought change on a dramatic scale. For example, life expectancy at birth has increased more than twice as much in the last century as it did in the previous 200,000 years. Our global wealth has skyrocketed. The ability to innovate on top of exiting innovations – which is now possible with the reach of the Internet to gain free and instantaneous access to information worldwide – suggests that the steep trajectory of change will only continue.

 From Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg 

Predicting the Future Has Never Been More Difficult and The Recent Past May Not Be the Best Anchor

Our minds are wired to understand linear changes, not hockey stick changes. This is why logarithmic graphs – linear representation of non-linear phenomenon – were created. It becomes even more challenging when multiple non-linear changes occur at the same time. Advances in computing power, machine learning and the proliferation of small, interconnected devices are examples of today’s reality.

Even some of our sharpest minds are struggling to make sense of it. At the recent Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting, Warren Buffett commented on the dramatically changing landscape of retail by saying, “I have no illusion that 10 years from now will look the same as today, and there will be a few things along the way that surprise us,” he said. “The world has evolved, and it’s going to keep evolving, but the speed is increasing.”

It’s Not All Rosy

As we have learned, dramatic changes – even if generally positive – create disruption and losers as well as winners. Some of the pitfalls can be predicted but many cannot. For example, our new era of connectivity has, ironically, created a greater sense of isolation and increased anxiety. Studies have found that active Facebook users can be lonely as compared to peers that are not as active on social media. Numerous articles and studies point to the dangers and increased risks of social isolation, including the recent Boston Globe article “The biggest Threat Facing Middle-Age Men isn’t Smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.

How and Where We Live Will Change, Too

Our living environments will increasingly change, too.  These various advances give us new tools to meet people’s needs in new and innovative ways. On demand services, such as Uber for transportation or Task Rabbit for handyman needs, can replace traditional methods. The adoption and ubiquity of the “Internet of Healthy Things” – connected devices that help track personal data for your well-being – can help people stay healthy. I have been using the Oura Ring – effectively a fitbit for your finger – and it has provided accurate and informative diagnosis of my activity and sleep patterns to help me manage my life. Telehealth is being increasingly used in non-institutional settings to keep people from needing to go to the hospital.

These advances will enhance existing residential environments; they will also help spawn new residential models. Specially designed co-living residential options are new and gathering momentum with a multitude of providers. At Smart Living 360, we have seen how the impact of clever design, a culture of personal connection and the ability to coordinate services can resonate with people of multiple generations. Over time, with continued advances, we expect intelligently designed intergenerational living to be the norm, not the exception.

Looking Ahead

Perhaps the only thing we can accurately predict about the future is that will be different than today. Our collective opportunity and challenge will be to use ongoing advances to positively impact the world and humanity. Elon Musk’s ambitious vision of what’s possible should serve as inspiration to us all.

The Future of Health

The Future of Health Care is Staying Healthy

The US currently spends over $3 trillion dollars (or 18% of its GDP) on health care. This is significantly higher than most other countries and is twice the per capita average of other developed countries. Further, partially driven by an aging population, health care is expected to reach 20% of GDP by 2025, representing nearly $5.5 trillion dollars. These are huge numbers.  While health care is a complicated and controversial subject, it is clear that we need to find ways to rein in spending.

The future of health care is staying healthy. This was a theme of the recent Lake Nona Impact Forum, an annual gathering that brings together the nation’s top CEOs, health care innovators and thought leaders. One health expert, Ezekiel Emanuel, concluded that our country is “over hospitaled”, estimating that over 1,000 hospitals, or approx. 20% of the nation’s supply, are destined to close with a shift away from services provided in institutions to those in the community. All agreed that changes ahead are profound.

Not a Triple but a Quadruple Aim -> Consumer Engagement

Back in 2010, the US health care administration introduced the goal of a “triple aim”: (i) improving quality of care, (ii) improving health of populations, and (iii) reducing the per capita cost. Today, some argue it should be a “quadruple aim” adding consumer engagement. We need to find ways for more people to be motivated to stay healthy so we can shift resources from managing sickness to staying healthy. This is a particularly important task for insurers as well as certain states, such as Maryland and Vermont, who have chosen to be accountable for their total health care spend.

Increasing Role of Technology and Personal Data

Just as it has for other parts of our lives, technology and personal data will play an increasing role in our health. These advances promise to improve outcomes and reduce cost. Telehealth is now a common feature among commercial insurance plans, including UnitedHealth and Kaiser, and consumers have appreciated its convenience and effectiveness. Originally of Jeopardy fame, IBM Watson has focused energies on health care and has partnered with various health care institutions to accelerate health research. Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot is a bet on the ability to learn from metadata of millions of people.

Powerful tools are increasingly available to consumers to help stay informed and healthy. Daniel Kraft, a speaker at this year’s Impact Forum, highlights what’s possible with smartphones, peripherals and specialized health apps (“There’s an App for That”). I wear an Oura ring that provides accurate insights on activity and sleep patterns, including periods of light, deep and REM sleep. Internet of health things devices, like the Oura ring, can connect to new data consumer platforms, like Curious, to allow people to share data and learn from others.

Housing as Platform for Improved Health

Particularly as we shift from managing sickness to staying healthy, housing, one of the social determinants of health, plays an increasingly significant role. Work at the Bipartisan Policy Center has highlighted the important interplay of housing and health and the need to promote best-in-class options.  Innovative seniors housing providers, such as Juniper Communities, have demonstrated the positive impact of new housing models, including reduced costs and increased health.

At Smart Living 360, enhancing personal well-being is paramount. This thinking influences location strategies, design sensibilities and community culture.  We target walkable mixed-use locations, typically with a grocer in close proximity. Our design integrates in-unit features that accommodate people of all ages and stages, and common spaces are laid out to optimize interaction and utility.  Fitness rooms include a range of equipment to meet a variety of needs and are technology forward. Community programming, facilitated by our Lifestyle Ambassador, is oriented to increasing purpose, personal connection and physical well-being. Our residents report that it makes a difference.

The Evolving Empowerment of You

There has never been a better time in history to live a long, healthy and productive life. As we progress forward, changes in health care delivery, technology and housing will further empower us to take advantage of our increased longevity.