By Courtney Helgoe, Experience Life
When National Geographic sent explorer and journalist Dan Buettner abroad in 2007 to research the secrets of the world’s longest-lived societies, he interviewed one scrappy centenarian from the seat of her exercise bike. Another beat him at arm wrestling. The citizens of what Buettner subsequently called the globe’s “Blue Zones” not only demonstrated an unusual capacity for longevity, they also displayed an extraordinarily positive outlook and zest for life.
In his first best-selling book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (National Geographic, 2008), Buettner touched on the intrinsic role this sort of joie de vivre seemed to have on longevity. Then he decided to dig deeper and make an exploration of the world’s “happiness hot spots” the central focus of his newest book, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way (National Geographic, 2010).
Thanks to a decade-worth of surveys measuring well-being on a global scale, National Geographic researchers already knew where these hots spots were located. Buettner’s investigative mission: finding out what accounted for the happy lots of these residents, and how the rest of us could leverage some of their central lessons on satisfaction — regardless of where we live.
Apparently, longitude and latitude aren’t the deciding factors. The locales Buettner investigated (Denmark, Singapore, northeastern Mexico and San Luis Obispo, Calif.) are notably diverse, geographically and culturally.
Each society faces different but daunting inherent challenges, like months of winter darkness, prohibitive property costs or rampant police corruption. Still, they share a sense of well-being that comes mostly from ordinary, daily routines and rituals (many involving friends and family), combined with a collective quality of life — one not tied to individual surpluses of money or professional power.
We often mistakenly try to measure happiness by life’s high points, Buettner says, yet the hot spots suggest that “lived happiness” usually derives from mundane, repeated acts and moments too ordinary to attract notice. Like regularly walking to the store instead of driving. Like enjoying your work. Like feeling safe on the street at night.
Buettner’s hope is that by better understanding the everyday habits and attitudes of happy people around the world, we’ll all stand a better chance at becoming happier ourselves. We can stop looking for happiness in all the wrong places, and put our energy to more worthwhile and rewarding uses instead.
Here’s just a little of what Buettner learned, and what he’d like us all to know, about the four happiest places on Earth.