I don´t focus so much on the why, but rather on the present experience and how we can take this awareness into the future. Instead of judging which one is more important, I focus on becoming aware of my urges and patterns of behavior and then ask, is this benefiting me? Is this helping me live the life I want to live and be the person I want to be? If not, then I can explore ways to change my neurological wiring over time and behave differently in the future.

The term Blue Zones has been used to describe places where people live long and healthy lives. What exactly does it take to live a long and healthy life? What is the science and the secret behind longevity and life extension? In this series, we are talking to medical experts, wellness experts, and longevity experts to share “5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life”. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Berit Lewis

Berit Lewis is the author of the book Ageing Upwards, a mindfulness based framework for the longevity revolution. The book is based on the research she has done in cooperation with Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) and Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing in the Netherlands, into how mindfulness can help us thrive and cope with age-related challenges. She is a keynote speaker and the CEO of Thriving Life (www.thrivinglife.eu), offering mindfulness based workshops, courses and retreats in mental well-being. As well as being an experienced and accredited Mindfulness Teacher, she holds a MA in Communication, a BA (Honours) in Psychology, and a MSc in Vitality and Ageing.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

My first career was in communications, working within the corporate world and also as a communications consultant for the Danish Defence. However, a job opportunity for my husband brought me and our family to the Netherlands. In the beginning, I had a hard time coming to terms with giving up my job and title. I felt I had lost my identity and I had to re-invent myself. I ended up going back to university in my 40s to study psychology. For a while, I worked with expat spouses like myself who had given up their careers to follow their partners around the world. I found a lot of them, like myself, were searching for a purpose beyond being a parent and a partner. It got me interested in investigating what it takes to create contented fulfilling lives and also how to best cope with the changes that life brings us. Psychology gave me the academic background, but it was mindfulness, which I studied and practised on the side, which provided me with practical solutions. I became a mindfulness teacher and started my company Thriving Life, which is offering customised mindfulness-based training programs with the intention to enhance individuals and organisation’s ability to thrive and perform.

Covid, however, brought me into a new phase of life as most of my work got cancelled. Once again, I had to transform. By now, I was middle-aged, and I started to have a lot of thoughts about what it takes to create a good life as an older person. Once again, I went back to university. This time to study Vitality and Ageing at the age of 50.

As I did my Master in Vitality and Ageing, I noticed a gap in interest and research on ageing. Most publications about ageing talks about how to avoid ageing. They give us advise on how to stay young and live for as long as possible. But what about helping us cope mentally with the unavoidable challenges that comes with ageing? I set out to investigate if mindfulness could be a suitable approach. I created, taught, and carried out qualitative research into how mindfulness can help us thrive while ageing. The results were very promising. I found that a mindfulness practice can empower us to overcome old (ageist) thought patterns and cultivate an ability to embrace rather than run away from our age. The research and experience turned onto the book Ageing Upwards, and this is where I am now. I feel I have come full circle and all my different careers in life are coming together as I am drawing on my experience in communication, psychology, mindfulness, and ageing.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I first experienced the power of mindfulness meditation when I as a complete beginner joined a 5-day silent retreat in Devon. We had to sit and meditate for many hours and my lower back started to hurt. It seemed impossible to focus my attention on my breath, as we were supposed to, as the pain hijacked my attention. On the morning of the third my teacher gave us the piece of advice that would transform my life and set me up for my future career as a mindfulness teacher. She said: “When you experience suffering in life, you have two options. You can either change the situation or, if that is not possible, you can change your attitude towards it”. First, I tried to change my situation by trying out different ways of sitting or lying, while meditating. It didn´t help. As I acknowledged that I couldn´t change the situation, I started to work on my attitude. I approached the pain beyond any preconceived ideas of something bad that I had to avoid or ignore. I explored the sensation with a curious, accepting, and compassionate mind. How did this sensation truly feel like? Did it change? Did is move? Did it have a texture, a colour, or a surface? Was it warm or cold? Could I somehow manage to acknowledge that this physical sensation was part of the moment, but at the same time also be open to other sensations, emotions and thoughts being present? The answer was yes! It was an enormous relief to realise that although I have no control over the challenges life throw at me, I have the power to control how I respond to them. I can dilute pain (physical and mental) by allowing it to be part of life. I can stop it from taking all of my attention and control my life. This experience made me pursue a career as a mindfulness teacher. Up till then I had only worked with wellbeing and mental health from an intellectual point of view. But at the retreat I got my first embodied insight. I realised that I could recognize and respond mindfully to unpleasant thoughts, emotions and physical sensations and stop them from feeding off each other uncontrollably.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am grateful to so many people who has supported me in my life both privately and professionally and I find it hard to point to one person. I am particularly grateful to all the people who has engaged in my mindfulness courses. While I am considered the teacher, my students ensures that I keep learning and growing. They continue to give me inspiration and encouragement and reminds me to keep a humble, curious beginner´s mind.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

My definition of success is different to most peoples. For me success is not about achieving an end goal, but rather to successfully be able to continuously navigate life in a way that allows me to be the person I want to be and live the life I want to live. Curiosity, compassion, and passion allows me to do this. I compare the way I live my life and run my business to that of a mountain goat. Mountain goats don´t aim for the highest peak of a mountain, just because it is the highest place they can get to. They spend their time curiously grazing the many valleys, peaks, and plateaus, enjoying the views and challenges along the way while socializing and learning from the other goats. If something or somebody hinders them in reaching a chosen destination, or they see a different or more interesting looking patch of grass on another mountain along the way, they meet it with curiosity, acceptance and (self-) compassion. They adjust and take another path. Yet, they are not just aimlessly wandering around. A mountain goat´s domain is the mountains. This is the place they know well and where their heart and mind belong. My mountain, and where my passion lies, is the mindful facilitation of thriving lives. It gives me purpose and a zest for life and it is my passion that is instrumental to my successful navigation of life and career.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview about health and longevity. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fields of health, wellness, and longevity? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

I call myself a pro-age activist and I am on a mission to end ageism from the inside out. In our culture we have a narrative that says that being old is something negative while being young is usually associated with something positive. We read books about staying young, we use “anti-aging creams”, or give our friends compliment about “not looking their age”, without realising that we are being ageist. Because what is wrong with grey hair and wrinkles? Ageing is not necessary a problem for our wellbeing, but our (self-) limiting thoughts about ageing are.

In their report on ageism, the WHO declares that 1 in 2 people are ageist against older people. The report also announces the profound negative consequences it has on older adults’ health and wellbeing, which includes poorer mental health, higher levels of depression, anxiety, and lower subjective well-being. While there is an increasing attention to the issue of age discrimination and its impact on individuals and organizations, it is a difficult issue to combat as ageism is so commonly accepted and ingrained into policies, laws, institutions, and general beliefs. Ageism is often not recognized as a problem as we are simply not aware of it being present. My contribution lies in helping people´s to see these limiting and damaging beliefs and to assist them in responding mindfully and create thriving (ageing) lives.

Seekers throughout history have traveled great distances and embarked on mythical quests in search of the “elixir of life,” a mythical potion said to cure all diseases and give eternal youth. Has your search for health, vitality, and longevity taken you on any interesting paths or journeys? We’d love to hear the story.

When I was doing research for my book Ageing Upwards, I decided to go on a Buddhist Vipassana retreat, which involves 10 days of silence and intense mindfulness meditation. I wanted to put my secular teaching into perspective and explore some of its roots. It was an exhausting, but enlightening experience. By constantly noticing and labelling the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations happening moment to moment, I learned that most of the urges and thoughts that drive me in everyday life, do so to help me survive — often at the cost of thriving mentally. I saw “the structure” under my urges and actions, as my teacher, Mike Helmle, called it. However, I also learned that I have the power to overwrite the hardwiring of my caveman brain and that I can enhance my ability to feel compassion through concentration and practice. While I am still very much a novice on this spiritual path, I am sure the elixir of life can be found somewhere here for the dedicated. You can read more about my experiences in my book Ageing Upwards where I interview both Mike Helmle and Steven Thomas, who has been on 20 Vipassana retreats.

Based on your research or experience, can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Live A Long & Healthy Life”? (Please share a story or an example for each)

  1. Attentional Control. Our attention is our mental currency, and where we choose to invest it sets the tone for our days and lives. The secret to a thriving life is the ability to be able to choose one thought over another, as this will influence the emotions and physical sensations that follow. If we for instance place all our attention on the things that we can no longer do due to our age, instead of the things we can still enjoy, it will of course make our lives miserable. The good news is that we have the power to choose where to place our attention and we can become better at sustaining our concentration and focus for longer. It just takes practice.
  2. Awareness. As we get better at controlling our attention, we will be able to see what is happening in our minds more clearly. We will see that all our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations are motivated by socially and/or genetically wired needs or desires. This awareness gives us the freedom to make conscious choices about whether to let them rule our lives or not.
  3. Acceptance. We waste so much of our time and energy wishing things were different. Even the things that we know deep down cannot be changed. As mentioned earlier, discomfort and pain are part of life, but our caveman brains are wired to avoid these to survive. However today we are no longer running from the discomfort of being eaten by lions. We are also avoiding the pains of our thoughts and emotions. Ironically this strategy enhances the discomfort by creating even more tension. It is exhausting and can take years of our lives. The key is to practice acceptance. This is not the same as giving up, but rather to wake up to the reality of our situation as it is in the present moment and then be able to look ahead and make choices for how to adapt and move on.
  4. Affection. Words like ‘love’, ‘compassion’ and ‘affection’ are often dismissed as soft skills, but, these feelings are hardcore, and we wouldn’t survive without them. Research has found that compassionate people tend to be happier, healthier, more self-confident, less self-critical, and more resilient. Self-compassion has also been proven to be a significant predictor of overall mental health and well-being. (Self — ) compassion can be hard for some people, but the good news is that is it a skill and like all skills we can improve through practice.
  5. Mental flexibility. In my book Ageing Upwards I suggest an alternative to the traditional biomedical mechanical way of looking at ageing. It is called functional contextualism. Instead of seeing our body as a machine that is slowly breaking down through wear and tear, we can take the context, in which we need to function, into consideration. From this perspective, age-related illness, pain or decline in one or more faculties does not mean that we are broken or dysfunctional, it just means that we find ourselves in new contexts which are open for us to discover. We are not machines created to do just one function. Instead, we can see our lives as a flow of transitions. The key to a thriving life is to float along with the changes, look for creative ways to adapt and try not to hold on to the past.

Can you suggest a few things needed to live a life filled with happiness, joy, and meaning?

I believe the most important thing to a happy resilient life is to take pauses. We need to regularly step out of doing mode and into being mode. It helps us cope with stress by balancing our nervous system, but it also allows us to feel ourselves, listen to our bodies and gain awareness. Without awareness we will not know what we need to change.

By pauses I mean both short pauses of 5–10 minutes but also longer ones where we take a day or more out of our calendar to be able to observe things from a distance.

Some argue that longevity is genetic, while others say that living a long life is simply a choice. What are your thoughts on this nature vs. nurture debate? Which is more important?

I don´t focus so much on the why, but rather on the present experience and how we can take this awareness into the future. Instead of judging which one is more important, I focus on becoming aware of my urges and patterns of behavior and then ask, is this benefiting me? Is this helping me live the life I want to live and be the person I want to be? If not, then I can explore ways to change my neurological wiring over time and behave differently in the future.

Life sometimes takes us on paths that are challenging. How have you managed to bounce back from setbacks in order to cultivate physical, mental, and emotional health?

This is where a mindfulness practice is truly beneficial. It helps us see life as it really is; impermanent. When you truly understand this, it is easier to bounce back from difficult times, because you know that things will change. Just saying the phrase: “this shall pass too” helps me immensely getting through tough times. It also reminds me to appreciate the good times, because I know they are only here for a short while. Impermanence is usually seen as something negative. Most of us fear the loss of what and who we love and are attached to. However, once you come to terms with it, it is in fact very liberating to know that everything eventually goes, and that life is a never-ending cycle of changes happening every second. Loss, failure, and setback are all painful, but it also brings freedom and opportunities.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” by the Sufi Poet Rumi. It reminds us that most of what happens to us in life is beyond our control, and the best way live a happy life is to work with the things that we can control; ourselves.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

100 years ago, we introduced physical education (PE) in schools as we realised this was important for healthy bodies. Now we know that working with our minds and emotions are just as important to our health. I believe it is high time we add emotional- and social education (ESE) to our school´s curriculum. I have no doubt that we would see a better world if we trained our children from an early age to pay attention to their thoughts and emotions and to practice the skills of compassion. I also think that learning these skills at an early age, would be highly beneficial for living healthy at the end of our lives, as by then we would have had a lifetime of practice.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

Check out my website www.thrivinglife.eu where you can find details on the courses, workshops and talks I offer.

Please also sign up to my Blog and Newsletter Ageing Upwards on https://ageingupwards.substack.com/

My book Ageing Upwards — a mindfulness-based Framework for the Longevity Revolution can be ordered on https://mybook.to/AgeingUpwards

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.