Posts

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.

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.