National Geographic Author Solves the Riddle of Happiness and Longevity
Best-selling author Dan Buettner has been leading National Geographic expeditions around the globe for 15 years. In 2000, Buettner and his team stumbled upon what he termed a “mystery” in Okinawa, Japan–their population had the longest, disability-free life expectancy in the world. Believing that this was his “Aha moment,” Buettner went on to discover Blue Zones, pockets of societies that live the longest. They are Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, CA. He since discovered that there is a direct correlation between longevity and happiness. In his latest book, “The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People,” Buettner offers information on how to re-shape your surroundings to make your life happier. He explores his evidence in this month’s National Geographic cover story, “These Are the World’s Happiest Places.”
1) What do Blue Zones of longevity have in common?
They all eat a mostly plant-based diet, what I call the four pillars: grains, greens, beans, and nuts. They have a vocabulary for purpose. They put family first. They tend to belong to a faith and actually show up. They have sacred, daily rituals that slow them down and reverse inflammation of every-day living. They live in places where, every time they go to school or work or to someone’s house, they walk. They tend to curate groups of friends who are committed to each other and have healthy habits themselves, so every time they interact with one another, they re-enforce a healthy lifestyle.
2) Where are the Blue Zones of happiness and what do these places have in common?
It turns out that happiness is a meaningless word because you can’t measure it, but you can measure components of happiness … satisfaction, positive emotions, and purpose. So I found three areas in the world that best exemplify each of those three facets–Singapore (satisfaction), Costa Rica (positive emotions) and Denmark (purpose) … Health and happiness are Siamese twins. You cut one out, the other one dies. The same things that generate circumstances that help populations live a long time also keeps them happy along the way.
3) What do we learn in your new book about generating happiness in our own lives?
I argue that the same way that your financial advisor will tell you to have a diversified portfolio when it comes to cash, stocks, and bonds, you should have a balanced portfolio when it comes to the three different types of happiness. I take readers around the world using story-driven science so you can see these three types of happiness being enacted. The last half of my book is a prescription for how you can stack the deck in favor of happiness … Changing your habits never works … What really works is shaping your surroundings. This includes how long you sleep, where you live, what you eat and how much you exercise.
4) What is something we can do right away to make us happy?
Have good friends in your life, some of whom consider exercise as a fun activity. Find people who will encourage you to explore different things, who will keep your mind hungry.