Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of reading The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World’s Happiest People by Dan Buettner. Buettner is a National Geographic Fellow and has spent most of his life traveling across continents identifying areas of the world that have exceptional longevity, health, and happiness, which he dubs “Blue Zones.” He breaks down mutual characteristics and strengths of the people inhabiting Blue Zones to share how we can all infuse more happiness into our lives.
First and foremost, Buettner emphasizes a sense of community as a key to happiness and overall wellbeing. Blue Zone neighborhoods have a strong sense of safety, a community gathering space (like a city center), and places of interest (for example: grocery stores, restaurants, and churches) within walking distance. These characteristics of “happy places” are important to consider when deciding where to settle down; however, many people don’t have the freedom to up and move to a Blue Zone, so there are smaller things you can implement to make your life and environment happier.
For instance, our home and work environments are just as important as overall location. Buettner proposes the idea of a “pride shrine” (Hamblin) in your home that triggers happy memories each time you pass it. This could include putting diplomas or awards on display that remind you of your accomplishments. He also recommends cutting down to one TV (ideally stored behind closed doors), decorating with green plants, and optimizing your bedroom for sleep by eliminating blue light sources.
Making improvements to your social life can also add happiness to your life. “For every new friend you add to your social network, you’re 15 percent more likely to be happy” (Hamblin). Take time to consider your social network and invest in friendships that bring you happiness, support, and laughter. The happiest people spend around 6 to 7 hours a day socializing – and that doesn’t include texting.
Given our industry, it wasn’t a surprise to also find financial security as one of the characteristics Buettner lists. Building financial security plays into the notion of long-term pleasure. We are much happier when we put in the work to achieve something versus instant gratification (or short-term pleasure). The same goes for many accomplishments – like running a marathon or learning a new instrument. We feel more accomplished by tasks that take us months to achieve than something that took us ten minutes. Enrolling in an automatic savings plan or participating in your employer’s retirement plan are some things you could do today to work on your financial happiness.
Lastly, happy, healthy people have a sense of purpose. A recent study shows that “individuals who expressed a clear goal in life—something to get up for in the morning, something that made a difference—lived longer and were sharper than those who did not” (Buettner, “NEWS: Huge Study Confirms Purpose and Meaning Add Years to Life.”). If this stresses you out and you find yourself thinking “what’s my purpose!?” – it’s okay. Buettner writes that your purpose doesn’t need to come from your career or something “big.” It can be as simple as watching your grandchildren grow older.
After having some time to process Blue Zones, I think that it was well worth the read. A lot of us say we just want to be happy in life, but it can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly would make us happier. Buettner’s approach is scientific in nature and even breaks down what events could make us happier by percentage. It’s easy to be swept up in complacency, but making small, mindful changes in life can create a large, lasting impact on your overall wellbeing.
Buettner, Dan. BLUE ZONES OF HAPPINESS: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People. National Geographic, 2019.
Buettner, Dan. “NEWS: Huge Study Confirms Purpose and Meaning Add Years to Life.” Blue Zones, 29 May 2019, www.bluezones.com/2019/05/news-huge-study-confirms-purpose-and-meaning-add-years-to-life/.
Buettner, Dan. Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way. National Geographic, 2011.
Hamblin, James. “A Lazy Person’s Guide to Happiness.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 24 Oct. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/10/get-rid-of-everything/543384/.