‘3 Lessons I Learned From a Month’s Stay in Ikaria, Greece—Home to Some of the Longest-Living People in the World’

Photo: Getty Images / Manuel Breva Colmeiro
There’s a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea where in your 30s, you’re still a child, and in your 90s, you may still have quite a long road ahead. Ikaria, Greece, sees over 30 percent of locals live past the age of 90—in fact, a whole report named The Ikaria Study, was done to learn more about the Ikarian lifestyle, including their diet, physical activity habits, how they socialize, and what makes them happy.

What makes Ikaria even more special is that it’s one of only five regions in the world considered a Blue Zone, a place where people live the longest, healthiest lives of anyone on the planet. Learning this was inspiration enough for Julie Nguyen, who was burnt out from running her business during the pandemic, to pack up her bags and go live in Ikaria for one month. These are the lessons she learned from embracing an Ikarian lifestyle for a month.

1. Use your time to prioritize connections over productivity

Nguyen had one rocky start to her month-long stay. “On my way from the airport, I took a wrong turn and almost drove my car off a cliff,” she says. “Locals came to my rescue, taking a rope from a child’s swing set and spending hours figuring out how to tow my car for me.”

Nguyen, who is the founder of the sustainable food delivery business, Methodology, says that was the first time in her life she’d experienced a group of strangers all come together and go out of their way to help her. “I never knew I could feel so supported and safe amongst strangers,” she says. “I collapsed into bed that night and cried. This experience taught me about the joy that flows through you when you value your time not by being as productive as possible, but by using it to connect, show kindness even to strangers, rest, and celebrate.

2. Define success for yourself

Because of Ikaria’s unique political history—Greece’s government exiled nearly 13,000 communists to the island following the Greek Civil War (1946–1949)—Ikarians don’t yearn for more, Nguyan says she learned from her time there. “Living in Ikaria was the first time experiencing what it’s like to live somewhere where money is an afterthought,” she says. “They’re perfectly content doing the same things every day and no one really cares about fancy clothes, homes, cars, or food. This taught me the importance of deciding for yourself what it means to you to have enough, be enough, and do enough. I now catch and stop myself more often when I’m comparing my success to the success of others. It’s brought me so much peace and gratitude for my life.”

3. Don’t allow your age to define you

While a lot of interest and talk of Ikaria centers on the longevity of its citizens, it’s not even a topic of discussion amongst locals. “There’s a freedom you feel when you stop allowing your age to define who you are or dictate what you should or shouldn’t do,” Nguyen says. “I no longer feel ‘old’ at 40 and love celebrating life more often.”

Though she’s no longer living in Ikaria, Nguyen (who is currently calling Paris home) is still embracing an Ikarian lifestyle in many ways. “My 10-year-old nephew who lives in Austin, Texas, just sent me an email asking if I’d attend his birthday party,” she says. “Initially I was going to decline because of the long flight time and how much is going on with work right now, but then I caught myself and remembered that life is about connecting with loved ones, and things like this need to be a priority in life.”

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