Back in July, Diane Sawyer introduced us to Debbie Watkins, "the most stressed-out person in America". Watkins fit the criteria of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which showed that middle aged women -- a demographic that is balancing the demands of children, aging parents, attention-starved husbands and a career at the expense of their own welfare -- had the lowest well-being of any age group or gender.
Today, Healthways has teamed up with USA Today to light a beacon of hope for middle aged women everywhere in the form of Watkins' opposite: A 50-year-old, 5-foot-6 working professional, who's married with an empty nest and lives near the beach.
Mary Claire Orenic of Manhattan Beach, Calif., has been dubbed "The Happiest Woman In America" by USA Today.
While the thought of waking up to the beach every morning, and having a husband who, as USA reports, "comes home to make her lunch", would obviously elicit smiles 24/7, it is important to note that while happiness fades, well-being is a sturdy structure built upon a foundation of physical, emotional and social health. And Orenic has solidified the latter.
In the first of a four-part series on "Passages to Well-Being", USA Today asked Healthways to investigate what contributes high well-being for women age 45-55, America's largest demographic. Healthways reports that high well-being boomer women are ones who find accomplishment, engagement and meaning in both their work and their community. Younger boomer women of the highest well-being are the most career-oriented of any women, many working full time and remaning engaged and satisfied with work.
According to Business Insider, a recent report of Gallup Daily's ongoing tracking series on American workers' shows that 71 percent of American workers are emotionally disconnected from their work, with middle-aged workers less likely to be engaged than both younger and older demographics. While relationships to the workplace and community are important, Dr. Holly Thacker, director of specialized women's health at the Cleveland Clinic emphasizes the need for middle aged women to take care themselves first, telling ABC World News, "Like the old adage, when you're flying on a plane, put your oxygen mask on first before you assist others."
Orenic's lifestyle--keeping fitness a priority, enjoying after-dinner walks on the beach, keeping in touch with neighbors--does just that. Her daily routine offers a glimpse into how middle-aged women can stay content, fulfilled and stimulated later in life.
A recent study reported by The Telegraph found that people who rated their happiness the highest were significantly less likely to die in the following five years than those who were least content. While these results cannot prove that happiness actually causes longer life, they do support a link between well-being and a longer life and previous research on such a relationship.
Professor Andrew Steptoe, who led the University College study told The Telegraph: "The happiness could be a marker of some other aspect of people's lives which is particularly important for health." Steptoe's findings also speak to Healthyways' criteria of high well-being women. "For example, happiness is quite strongly linked to good social relationships, and maybe it is things like that that are accounting for the link between happiness," he told the Telegraph.
Ready to break into the coveted high well-being circle? Check out the well-being checklist on USA Today.
In the original version of this story the name of Mary Claire Orenic was misspelled.