April 2013

Variety Is More than Just Tasty


It’s spring cleaning season, and yesterday I was working in my kitchen. While sorting items on my spice rack I thought about how dull food would be without them. Curious to learn more about spices and the possible benefits of using so many different ones, I took a break to learn more. That’s how I happened to find this quotation from Hans Selye, whose expertise includes studying the effects of stress on animals: “Variety of experience is not only the spice of life but possibly the key to longer life.”

The line “variety is the spice of life” is well known, but I had previously thought of it in qualitative — rather than quantitative — terms. However, now Selye and other researchers are telling us that variety has a measurable impact on longevity. Yes, I can envision a variety of tastes serving to stimulate brain cells, which then re-vitalizes them. As a result, we grow physically stronger and healthier, even as our enjoyment in life increases.

Our bodies benefit from variety in yet other ways. We are balanced with both upper and lower body fitness; we need both strength and stamina; we are healthy when we have food from all of the food groups; we are advised to avoid excessively repetitive movement; and so on.

Beyond food and exercise, the role of variety is present in much of what we do. For example, though I especially enjoy movies, I also read books, listen to music, and visit museums. And even within those there are a range of genres, again presenting a variety of experiences and brain stimulation.

Very importantly, this line of thinking also applies to our social lives. If biodiversity is desirable in the natural world, why not diversity in the social world? Surely diversity is a source of strength, with the potential to overcome both separation and alienation.

The Baha’i Writings often compare humanity to a garden, where variety creates beauty, visual interest and balance. `Abdu'l-Bahá also offered comparisons to music, for example in saying, “The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. If you meet those of different race and color from yourself . . . rejoice to be among them.”

A workplace is enhanced through having a diverse staff, as this brings together a range of opinions and viewpoints that can result in better ideas and more effective solutions, beyond what any one person could achieve on their own.

A community is improved through the presence and participation of a variety of residents. Cultural diversity and different perspectives will surely be a welcome feature of a future creative, peaceful world.

Whether variety is naturally present or purposely sought by us, it brings pleasure and is mind-expanding. How wonderful to know it can also add to our life-span. Quality of life AND quantity of life. That is welcome news, any time of the year.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2013