We’ve all heard about how consuming olive oil, red wine and fish has its health benefits. But the people who live in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea benefit from more than the available food. While a Mediterranean diet can be hugely beneficial, there are other aspects of this Mediterranean lifestyle that also promote longevity.

Human Connection

In a Harvard study on adult development conducted over the past 75+ years, the key factor to a happy life was found to be good relationships and human connection. No matter diet, health issues, income, or career satisfaction, the key to a happier life for most participants was their relationships with family and friends.

Family and friendships are also key ingredients in the Mediterranean lifestyle. If we take mealtime as an example, it’s not only about the food that is eaten. The meals are taken slowly and savored in the company of family or friends. Sure, a little red wine is poured, and the food, perhaps fish, is drizzled with locally grown extra virgin olive oil. But it’s the slow consumption and general conviviality of the meal process that matters as well.

When we think of comfort food, it’s not just the warm, filling ingredients that offer contentment, but the fact that it was something our mothers prepared for us. It’s the nostalgia, the heart, and the loving warmth that goes along with the food. When I’m not feeling well, I still long for a bowl of pastina with butter and salt, the way my mother made it for me. I’ll pass that on to my children.

The dinner table was host to some of my happiest childhood memories. The family would gather to eat and chat about our day. And our parents listened. My mother used to say it was how she found out what we did all day. She never had to pry us for information as we would freely spill the beans about what we were up to with our friends that day. This is one of many reasons why we should cook and eat at home often.

Friends Can Be Family

If you don’t have family, your friendships can also fill this need for loving connection. Sharing a meal with good friends, passing the wine and the bread, having a few laughs, discussing the day’s events, all add to the quality of our lives. Meals shouldn’t be rushed. Take a couple of hours and enjoy the act of mealtime. Your digestion will be easier because you are spreading your food out over time. When everyone is sharing, moderation becomes the norm. You can’t eat like a starving animal at a tableful of people. You’ll naturally be more polite.

When we eat in moderation we don’t have to worry so much about calories. In the Mediterranean lifestyle, nothing is forbidden (with the exception of overprocessed foods) because everything is taken in moderation. A few forkfuls of dessert shared among friends can be highly satisfying without feeling the need to overindulge. You’ll be too busy laughing and enjoying the evening to worry about how much cake you’re getting.

Pleasures Outside the Table

When we fill our lives with pleasures that don’t derive from food, we need to eat less. We don’t need to eat in order to fill our pleasure center. Yes, food is very pleasurable, but it’s not pleasure’s only source when you fill your time with the good company of friends and family.

So, the next time you are standing at your microwave waiting for a frozen burrito to heat through, press the stop button and call a friend or a family member and invite them out to dinner. It’s my prescription for good health.

Side effects may include a happy heart, lower blood pressure, stress relief, a few laughs, and the possibility of romance.