Lessons from the World’s Happiest People

“Trying to make yourself happy almost always fails… The challenge is to reshape your life so that you’re constantly being nudged into well-being.”
– Dan Buettner

world's happiest peopleIn The Blue Zones of Happiness, Dan Buettner shares research findings that tell us the world’s happiest people combine the 3 Ps of happiness (pleasure, purpose, and pride) in amounts that are just right for them. They’re passionate about their personal and professional pursuits yet never lose sight of their need for joy, fellowship, and relaxation. They take great satisfaction in what they’re doing and what they’ve accomplished. They embody the best versions of themselves because the communities in which they live make it easier to adopt life-affirming behaviors.

Buettner challenges us with the question: “How can you set up your life so your circumstances nudge you into behaviors that make you happier?” He responds by exploring six areas in which evidence-based design principals can promote a happier life:

COMMUNITY DESIGN: Trustworthy civil servants (politicians, police); clean environment (water, air, land, noise); minimal urban sprawl; people-friendly streets for walking and cycling; high civic engagement and volunteerism; access to nature; affordable health and dental care; healthy food (farmer’s markets); healthy public policy to curtail smoking, drugs, obesity.

WORKPLACE DESIGN: Visionary, trustworthy, compassionate management; position tailor-made to interests, talents, values, and preferred work hours; minimal commute time; friend(s) among colleagues.

SOCIAL NETWORK DESIGN: Prioritize family and friends; hang out with happy people; nurture a small group with whom you share interests and values; join a club; cultivate a strong relationship with a life partner; be realistic about parenthood.

HOME DESIGN: Declutter; add plants (and reap the air-filtering and visual benefit!); maximize natural light; create a family gathering place; play music; adopt a pet; optimize the bedroom for sleep.

FINANCIAL WELL-BEING DESIGN: Leverage automatic savings plans; pay off debt; give experiences, not things; make friends with financially secure people with who you share values.

INNER LIFE DESIGN: Know your purpose; learn the art of being likeable; focus on others; get out of your comfort zones regularly; practice meditation.

Buettner also convened a “Blue Zones of Happiness Panel” – a team of experts whose task was to identify effective strategies for improving long-term happiness. After a great deal of discussion, they whittled their list down to a “Power 9.” Not surprisingly, they resonate with Buettner’s design principals.

  1. Love Someone: The right partner determines 90% of personal happiness.
  2. Inner Circle: Have at least 3 friends with whom you share your lives and provide meaningful support. Give the nod to folks who embody the virtues and behaviors to which you aspire.
  3. Engage: Get active in your community. Stretch your personal boundaries. Do something!
  4. Learn Likability: Be an interested and attentive listener. Practice generosity and empathy.
  5. Move Naturally: Exercise at least 30 minutes per day. Find ways to weave movement into your daily routine.
  6. Look Forward: Set your sights on meaningful goals, create plans to achieve them, and monitor progress.
  7. Sleep Seven Plus: Get a good night’s rest. Happiness drops by 30% when sleeping <6 hours per night.
  8. Shape Surroundings: Set up your home, work, finances, social, and inner life to promote happiness.
  9. Right Community: Live somewhere that promotes well-being.

I heartily suggest that you pick up a copy of the book and check out the rich content that Buettner provides. It’s a great resource for kick-starting the New Year.