In researching my book, I discovered that there's a relatively little-known realm of sociological study called "Positive Deviance." Most agree the term originated in the late 1960s, and it is commonly used to describe a phenomenon in which a small number of people facing difficult or entrenched challenges overcome them by behaving differently than most of the people around them.
The formal study of Positive Deviance is focused on identifying the behaviors responsible for these outliers' relative success, and then disseminating and encouraging the broader adoption of those behaviors by others.
Positive Deviance researchers have studied everything from well-nourished children in malnourished Vietnamese villages to hospitals with lower-than-average infection rates, but to date (to the best of my knowledge), they haven't made a formal study of exceptionally healthy people living here in the U.S. I think that would be a worthwhile endeavor.
Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.
The Positive Deviance approach is an asset-based, problem-solving, and community-driven approach that enables the community to discover these successful behaviors and strategies and develop a plan of action to promote their adoption by all concerned.
The founders of the Positive Deviance initiative also wrote a book on the subject (The Power of Positive Deviance), documenting the work they have done to date, and the promise the approach has to ignite grass-roots change in settings where expert, top-down interventions have failed.
While my work is in no way formally connected with theirs, or with the academic study of Positive Deviance, I do see the subject as inherently related to my exploration of Healthy Deviance, and I now sometimes reference it in describing the reasoning behind some of my own instinctive observations and assumptions.
As the daughter of a sociology professor who often talked about deviance at the dinner table, I also have a huge respect for the field.
At some point, I would love to partner with one or more social scientists to design a formal Healthy Deviance research project based on Positive Deviance principles, applying it to the small but diverse subset of individuals who are successfully beating the unhealthy odds in this country when tens of millions of others others are struggling to do so.
If that happens to interest you, please contact me.