As we discovered during our travels, recipes for well-being can vary dramatically from one culture to the next. In Denmark, citizens feel well cared for by their government, knowing their needs will be met for health care, education, and many other social benefits. By contrast, Mexicans rely on strong relationships with friends and family, on a supercharged faith in their church, and a remarkable capacity to laugh in the face of hardship. For people in Singapore, security and rapid economic growth have been the key to their good fortune. The residents of San Luis Obispo, finally, have handcrafted a California lifestyle that actively promotes thriving.
Despite their many differences, these four hot spots of happiness have each given us important clues about ways to improve our own well-being. Here are 10 that will get you started.
1. Find quiet surroundings
Move to a quiet neighbourhood. Humans are supremely adaptable creatures. We can get used to an ugly street or subfreezing weather (Minnesotans are happier than Floridians). But humans don’t adapt to noise. In other words, jet planes overhead, buzzing transmission lines, honking traffic, or loud music from next door promise a daily erosion of happiness. You see neighbours with nicer cars and bigger houses, you’re more likely to want them, too.
2. Avoid long commutes
Commuting is the least favourite activity people do on a daily basis. In fact, people who commute an hour each way would need an additional 40 percent of their monthly wage to be as satisfied with their life as people who walk to the office. Try to find a job in your neighbourhood or within an easy, fast commute, and you will set yourself up for minimal angst.
3. Find a hobby
We should all have a hobby that enhances our work life. In Denmark, 95 percent of Danes belong to a club, many of which are organized around common interests such as model trains, jumping rabbits, or playing chess. Some Danes even knock off work at mid-afternoon to spend the rest of the day engaged in a hobby. This offers life another dimension that wholly caters to our interests and talents. It helps us get into the state of flow and increases both evaluated and experienced happiness.
4. Invest in experiences
Spending your money on family vacations, dance classes, ongoing education, music lessons, scuba diving, and so forth is more likely to provide you with a lasting sense of well-being than buying the latest fashions or splurging on a new car.
5. Reduce TV screens
Have only one TV in your house. Ideally it would be located in an out-of-the-way room in a cabinet. Take the TVs out of your kids’ rooms. Research shows that this will likely reduce your child’s body fat index by nudging them into being more active. Remove the TV from the kitchen, too. This reduces mindless eating and excessive calorie consumption.
6. Own a pet
Many studies suggest that pet owners are healthier and happier than people without pets. Pet owners have been shown to have lower blood pressure and fewer stress hormones in their blood. In fact, the presence of a pet was found to be more effective than a spouse or a friend in easing the effects of stress on the heart. Pets foster self-esteem, calmness, soothing, and a feeling of acceptance. They provide daily, nonjudgmental companionship and a means for us to take the focus off our own needs and problems. Pet-owning seniors suffer fewer minor health problems, need to see the doctor less often, and enjoy lower health care costs. If a dog needs to get walked every day, guess who else tends to get walked?
7. Paint your mood
A great deal of research has been done on colour and mood. Painting your living room yellow will inspire energy and a bright mood. Paint areas for meditation and rest a soothing colour to promote relaxation. Japanese hospitals are painted a healing shade of sea-foam green.
8. Find a purpose partner
Find someone to whom you can communicate your life purpose as well as a plan for realizing it. ‘Think of one person who has the capacity to give you that periodic wake-up nudge to the potential of your life,’ recommends Richard Leider, the best-selling author of The Power of Purpose. ‘Make a practice to talk with the ‘purpose partner’ about your life purpose two or three times a year.’
Excerpted from Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way by Dan Buettner. Copyright © 2010 Dan Buettner. Excerpted by permission of the National Geographic Society. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.