Science says that the happiest place on earth is Denmark, not Disneyland. And data indicate that women in Okinawa, Japan, live the longest. When I learned this I was all like: Wha?! Why? And can I get some?
Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow and New York Times bestselling author, examined data from various sources—like the World Health Organization and the Gallup Well-being Index—and extracted commonalities across cultures about happiness and longevity. They identified what he calls the “Blue Zones,” which are areas in the world where people are the happiest and live the longest.
How happy you are, scientifically speaking? Take the Blue Zones test.
Wanna be happier?
You have to focus on longevity instead of immediate gratification. Dan says that the effects of saving money are longer lasting and therefore more valuable to your overall happiness than the immediate gratification that comes from buying new shoes, for example. (I disagree, DAN.)
And while gratitude journals and other techniques may work for short-term mood improvement, Dan warns that they are like diets—no one stays on them for very long. Thus, we need to look at what’s statistically more likely to make us happy over the long run—based on research—and set up our lives accordingly.
>> Watch Dan’s interview that prompted this post here. (Seriously, watch the video!)
You may need to move
What researchers found was that environment was the biggest predictor of happiness. This is not just your home or work surroundings, but where you actually live—down to the city.
Statistically, people are happiest in Denmark. Dan credits this to social factors that allow Danes to choose jobs based on skill and interest instead of money and status, as is often the case in America. Because so much of the basics are taken care of in Danish society, like healthcare and education, Danes can spend more of their time focusing on what they actually like to do.
In the U.S., cities like Boulder, CO, several coastal California towns, and even Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, were identified as the happiest cities. (More on Minneapolis below.) This is based, in part, on their proximity to mountains or water, and the social lifestyles they promote. So, yeah, you may need to move.
Personally, I’m glad
In the interview that sparked this post, Dan actually calls out Minneapolis as a happy city. Personally, I’m glad because I have a friend who just moved there. Like, yesterday.
I was upset about her move because, along with another friend, we meet monthly for dinner and drinks and talk about our lives. Plus, I thought she was a GD lunatic for abandoning the comforts of Southern California for the rugged plains of the Midwest (and I know about the Midwest). But it’s a relief to know that she picked a good place. I mean, Prince lived in Minneapolis his entire life!
And as for living longer…
Dan and his team found that people live the longest in Okinawa, Japan. Women there live well into their 100s and still manage to work. Dan credits this longevity with the idea of ikigai, which translates to “reason for being” or “purpose.”
FINDING YOUR PURPOSE
Purpose is where values, interests, skills, and talent meet. Make a diagram with 4 parts:
- What you value
- What you like to do
- What you’re good at doing
- And what you have to offer others
Write down responses to each of the categories. Then, look for words that repeat. The most common words suggest your purpose.
In Japan, there’s no separation of a person’s work from their purpose; these things are one and the same. Here in the U.S., I do my job. I think about what I SHOULD be doing with my life. I daydream about selling everything and moving to Portugal.
He even found what foods help people live the longest. SPOILER ALERT: Plant-based foods. And here’s the major takeaway: people who live the longest drink alcohol moderately and REGULARLY.
Live long and leisurely
Improve your surroundings. Get outside. Maybe even move. (Might I suggest Minneapolis?) Find three or four good friends and invest in spending time with them—IRL. And follow your purpose.
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