There is a little island in the Mediterranean sea, in northeast Greece, called Ikaria. The people living there have their own pace of life and living norms, most of which have somehow survived to the present day: in times of war, hardship, deprivation or in times of bliss, these qualities remain unchanged.
The slow pace of life, which differs from that of the rest of the western world, the easy going style, the strong sense of community ties, the sense of sharing, tolerance, equality among members, as well as a healthy diet constitute ” a different set of rules”.
Perhaps all the above mentioned factors contribute to this people’s outstanding longevity. Many Ikarians may live to be 100 years old and lead an active life at this age. Because of this, the island has been included in what is called the Blue Zone. The Blue zone is a term used by Dan Buettner, who did a research with the National Geographic about areas of the world where people have a higher life expectancy.
Apart from Ikaria this includes Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California and Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.
Let’s take a closer look at Ikaria and its residents.
“Ikaria is a “mountain” in the sea. An ark which floats on the Aegean sea, a place between the East and the West. A large part of the island is mountainous with its highest peak at 1041 m. Many villages were built on the mountainous part; this was with the idea of protecting themselves from Pirate attacks.” says Ilias Gianniris, architect, who lives on the island. ” Due to the fact that Ikarians have suffered enough through wars, occupations and famine they have learnt to support and help each other, yet they also support and help others who may be in need. Today, due to the economic crisis, people from other places of Greece have come to start a new life in Ikaria” he adds.
Indeed, Ikaria has a strong sense of bartering; the exchange of goods and products such as fruits , vegetables and others ; ” Alaxia” as they call it. In times of difficulty they often resorted to bartering and neighbors still do so, in spite of the fact that nowadays, the social infrastructure is more or less like that of other places in the western world.
Nonetheless their collective unconscious retains memories of the traditional way of doing things.
Belonging is another characteristic derived from the old times. Belonging to a community regardless of its form may give one a strong sense of security and personal strength. A good example is that if one member was building a house, the neighbors would assist them. Many houses in the past were built this way.
” Though I was not born in Ikaria, my father was, and people embraced me as soon as I come here to stay. It is a community that maintains the values of tolerance and the principle of helping and supporting each other.” says Michalis Kavouriaris of the Ikarian center.
It is important to show that Ikarians not only socialized or communicated in times of hardship but in good times as well. In fact they love socializing; getting together on a daily basis either to share a meal, have coffee, talk about their chores or just chat. Their famous traditional feasts with food, dancing and wine are an important part of their culture.
Another characteristic is their healthy diet. Ikarians eat a lot of fruit, vegetables, drink the tea of local herbs, goat’s milk and its products, honey, not to mention their marvellous Ikarian wine which has a strong taste and is a staple part of their diet.
It is worth mentioning that although Ikaria produces a variety of agricultural products, it is far from being rich. For Ikarians money was not really an issue. It was significant only as a means to enjoy life and help each other. It’s other things that matter. And when someone asked an old lady about life this is what she answered:
” Life is beautiful, only if people can live it well. Having the essentials is enough. Not the luxuries”.
So regardless of where we come from, couldn’t we all find inspiration in the lifestyle of this people?