What Do Blue Zones and Successful Families Have in Common?

Bill High


She was just 24 years old. She leaned in and spoke with passion, “Did you know we’ve been studying the problems in our country, and almost everyone agrees that it all points to the breakdown of the family?”


Sadly, the results of her study were not surprising. But I was encouraged by the fact that this 24-year-old was engaged and leading the charge.


With such a deep and pervasive issue as the breakdown of the family, what can we possibly do?


Recently I’ve been reading a book by Dan Buettner called The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who Have Lived the Longest. It’s a fascinating read about Buettner’s study of the regions of the world that have produced the most centenarians—100-year-olds.


I was struck by his chapter on the Sardinians. Sardinia is an island west of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. To live there is like a throwback to another era. Men still tend to serve as shepherds, walking as much as five to six miles each day. Their lifestyle is simple. Their diet is simple—bread, cheese, vegetables, and occasionally some meat.


They value laughter and community. They allow time in their afternoons for a gathering of neighbors, a refreshing drink, and storytelling. As you can imagine, that storytelling leads to a shared story and shared laughter.


But there was something else that caught my eye. As a society, they value the aged who are viewed as repositories of wisdom. Grandparents have an active role in the family. They participate in the education and training of grandchildren. They are the storytellers to the next generation. In some cases, they live with their children, and as a result, they receive better care for themselves in turn.


While I’m not suggesting this seemingly idyllic way of life of the Sardinians is for everyone, some lessons about the aged from the Bible are worthy of consideration.


  • The value of the aged (Lev 19:32): In our fast-paced society, perhaps we can slow down and acknowledge the beauty and grace that comes with being elderly. It takes a certain kind of life to make it that long—discipline, moderation, and gratitude.


  • The wisdom of the aged (Job 12:12): What a wonderful thing to gather our children around us and to take the time to listen to the lessons the aged have learned. The elderly have the context of a time gone by, along with an appreciation of the present. That wisdom is to be valued and not simply dismissed by the pace of the present.


  • The storytelling of the aged (Ps 78:4): The best lessons come in stories. There’s much of our present world built upon artificial lessons delivered from the stage or behind the lectern. But there’s tremendous power in stories that tell the work of God and His provision from those who have fought the battles, survived the droughts, and learned the hardest life lessons.


  • The community of family (Prov 23:22): The Bible teaches us about the value of gathering as a family, honoring the aged, and the joy that comes from caring for one another.


All of this reminds me of another day and time. As God instructed the children of Israel on their exit out of Egypt, He told them to undertake some key activities of commemoration. They were to retell the story of the Passover and how God delivered them out of slavery. They were to celebrate with a meal that included bitter herbs symbolic of their slavery. There would be unleavened bread, which represents the bread the children of Israel took with them when they left Egypt in haste. And as they ate the Passover meal, they would recline at the table as a sign of their freedom.


And perhaps the part of the celebration I love the most is when the youngest child would recite, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” With that recitation, the elder statesman of the family would retell the story of God’s deliverance.


This tradition celebrates stories and retelling of stories generation after generation. It is the connection between young and old. It remembers the parts of our story that cost us something. It remembers the story of God’s deliverance and victory in our lives. When we learn to celebrate like that, we feel the richness and fullness of our heritage and the power of our roots.


Think about it. The breakdown of our families might well be reversed—certainly not in one simple stroke—but as we begin to implement some of these biblical principles and changes in our mindset. Value the aged. Seek their stories. Allow for their teaching to enter our lives and the lives of our children. And celebrate the pain and the joy together—with much laughter.

Bill High practiced law for 12 years before becoming the CEO of The Signatry. As CEO, he has spent over 18 years helping families live simply and give generously. He specializes in coaching families, individual givers, and financial advisers regarding biblical generosity and family legacy. He and his wife, Brooke, have four children and three grandchildren. He can be found at billhigh.com.